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32 Classic TV Shows That Stand the Test of Time

 Classic tv elaine from seinfeld.
Classic tv elaine from seinfeld.

This story is all about the pleasure of The Rewatch: The classic show you can go back to and consume with pleasure, no matter what. Whether you're rejoicing in the nostalgia, reveling in the acting, marveling at the tight pacing and plot, or just trying to get an extra layer of meaning from one of the best shows out there, there's nothing like a guaranteed comfort show. No matter if it's been a bad day or a terrific one, these shows are here with the kind of emotional support you might get from a good friend.

(Bonus: This list also serves as a guide if you're looking for your next must-watch show.)

'The Dick Van Dyke Show'

classic tv Dick van dyke show
classic tv Dick van dyke show

Dated? Sure, because this show originally aired in the '60s, but this much-beloved show has lots to recommend it. Plenty of people were tuning in because Mary Tyler Moore was just so adorable, but her and Dick Van Dyke as a sweet couple with a kid is the tv equivalent of cotton candy.

'The Andy Griffith Show'

classic shows andy griffith
classic shows andy griffith

A '60s staple, the show was already playing on nostalgia (specifically for the community and simplicity of the '30s) when it originally came out. But this look at small-town America, headed by the titular sheriff and populated by some very silly characters, is still fun and soothing.

'Columbo'

classic tv Columbo
classic tv Columbo

Funnily enough, this show was an important part of my childhood growing up (it was on reruns during the day). If you like Agatha Christie novels, you'll love Columbo, who's seemingly a bumbling mess in a trench coat but actually an incredibly shrewd detective. And he always solves it in the end.

'Justified'

classic tv justified
classic tv justified

Timothy Olyphant is, like, 90 percent of the appeal of the series, but it doesn't hurt that it's a compelling neo-Western. (I myself happen to be a Walton Goggins gal, so that's an added plus.) I don't want to say too much in terms of plot, because it's more fun the less you know if you're watching for the first time.

'30 Rock'

classic tv 30 rock
classic tv 30 rock

This is one of those classic shows that benefits from a rewatch: It moves fast, so you'll catch more of the jokes and easter eggs when you put it on a second time. If you happen to know anything about show business, it becomes even more fun as a sharp satire.

'Futurama'

classic tv futurama
classic tv futurama

This show has been cancelled and revived a number of times, which may mean you haven't watched it in all its iterations. The creator of The Simpsons (another very rewatchable show) envisions the life of a regular guy who accidentally gets cryogenically frozen and wakes up in the horrifying, hilarious future.

'Dexter'

classic tv dexter
classic tv dexter

I will warn you that if you start watching the show and are totally hooked, the last couple of seasons are...rocky. (The reboot has been critically acclaimed as an extension of the original story, so you'll have more to watch if you finish the original show.) But I could watch Michael C. Hall as a murderous "good guy" all day.

'Arrested Development'

classic tv Arrested development
classic tv Arrested development

Let's be honest, if you love Arrested Development, you've probably rewatched it (or at least your favorite clips on YouTube—it's a highly meme-able show). And if you have ever dealt with dysfunctional family or in-laws, you're rewatching it as a reminder that things could still be worse!

'Buffy the Vampire Slayer'

classic tv buffy
classic tv buffy

If you haven't rewatched this classic in a while, throw it on (and not just because Pedro Pascal made a cameo back in the day!). It's got very '90s fashion and '90s dialogue, but in that sense it's a perfect time capsule. As someone who happens to love that decade, it's nostalgia to the max.

'The Brady Bunch'

classic tv brady bunch
classic tv brady bunch

This light and fluffy (and deliberately apolitical) show is designed to be timeless, and the interworkings of a blended family learning how to get along (plus the various problems teens have to deal with) meant the show was surprisingly deep about interpersonal issues before others did it.

'Gilmore Girls'

classic tv Gilmore girls
classic tv Gilmore girls

Also known as the show with the fastest-talking characters of all time, Gilmore Girls absolutely benefits from a rewatch because you can actually understand what the characters are saying the second time around. Also, the mom-daughter dynamic is still cute, and we can all laugh at the very millennial attitude towards school and dating.

'I Love Lucy'

classic tv I love lucy
classic tv I love lucy

The show is aptly titled—Lucille Ball really does make the show, from her over-the-top facial expressions to her ingenious physical comedy. Frankly, the fun of the rewatch is to simply observe her brilliance (and, if you watched this as a kid, remember a simpler time in your life).

'Freaks and Geeks'

classic tv freaks and geeks
classic tv freaks and geeks

This will be a short rewatch, since it's less than a full season, but getting a peek at some future famous faces as they lament teenage life (in the talented hands of creator Paul Feig and producer Judd Apatow) is basically a trip down memory lane—and bonus points for getting the awkwardness of teendom right.

'Orphan Black'

classic tv Orphan black
classic tv Orphan black

Orphan Black probably falls into two big rewatchable categories (classic show and underrated show). It started strong, with Tatiana Maslany seemingly effortlessly embodying a ton of clone characters, and—even though there were ups and downs—it also ended strong after five seasons.

'Twin Peaks'

classic tv Twin peaks
classic tv Twin peaks

Also known as the show where I stared at my screen shouting "What??" a lot, Twin Peaks was a soapy, surreal, sometimes terrifying show that gripped watchers over its central mystery. The fun of the rewatch is to understand some—probably not all—of what David Lynch was trying to do, creatively speaking.

'Frasier'

classic tv frasier
classic tv frasier

This show was my first entree into the world of therapy—and it's hard to argue that Frasier Crane did credit to the profession as a soothing, sweet presence on our TV. Probably less realistic was the messiness of his personal life, but who cares because that was fun too.

'Mad Men'

classic tv mad men
classic tv mad men

The brilliance of setting a prestige TV show in the '60s (beyond the joyful costume drama vibe of it all) is that it doesn't really age: I could watch Don Draper drink his way through business meetings and Peggy Olson claw her way up the corporate ladder all day, every day.

'Six Feet Under'

classic tv Six feet under
classic tv Six feet under

If you haven't had the pleasure of watching this strange show, it's worth a watch. A rumination on death has never felt more fascinatingly alive—if you're unfamiliar, it's about a family running a funeral home (and living life very dramatically). Every episode begins with a death!

'The Sopranos'

classic tv Sopranos
classic tv Sopranos

Obviously, this is one of the greatest shows of all time (no one would argue with it!). But my love of rewatching this show, aside from the fact that I'm always surprised by how funny it is, is how much the show is a love letter to James Gandolfini. And how much we lost when he died.

'The Office'

classic tv the office
classic tv the office

In the list of rewatched shows, this one probably ranks towards the top (I have friends who put it on every single night as "their comfort watch"). The notion of dealing with annoying people at an office job you hate is universal—even if you don't do it, you still get it.

'Star Trek'

classic tv star trek
classic tv star trek

There are so, so many Star Trek iterations and episodes that you could be rewatching it for years—which, if you want to take on the project, sounds like fun. I myself love the original as a fun time capsule (William Shatner, lol) with some impressively relevant themes.

'Friends'

classic tv friends
classic tv friends

Given how popular this show STILL is, you've probably rewatched (or considered rewatching) Friends. These days, the show's seen somewhat more realistically—people understand its flaws, in other words—but to rewatch the show is also to relive a time when every single one of your friends was watching it at the same time.

'Big Love'

classic tv big love
classic tv big love

If you never watched this show about a fundamentalist Mormon man (Bill Paxton) practicing polygamy with three wives (Jeanne Tripplehorn, Chloë Sevigny, and Ginnifer Goodwin), you're missing out on a drama that's highly funny. If you watched and liked it, go back and be impressed by the late Paxton's acting prowess.

'Breaking Bad'

classic tv breaking bad
classic tv breaking bad

Lots of people watched this show rabidly every week, compelled by the question, "What on earth is going to happen to science teacher-turned meth distributor Walter White??" But if you go back and rewatch (probably more slowly and thoughtfully this time), you'll be impressed by how tight and evenly paced the plot structure is.

'Seinfeld'

classic tv seinfeld
classic tv seinfeld

Seinfeld was a cultural touchstone for lots of people, and its focus on the smallness of everyday life helped make it evergreen. But for me, the pleasure of the rewatch is all Elaine, from her glorious curly hair to her very '90s fashion to her empowered (for its time) attitude about dating.

'Parks and Recreation'

classic tv Parks and rec
classic tv Parks and rec

If you have ever worked for the government (or a job with a similarly hilarious amount of bureaucracy) then you already understand the premise of Parks and Rec. But over time, the show became about its ensemble cast as much as it was about the ever-cheerful Leslie Knope.

'Battlestar Galactica'

classic tv battlestar galactica
classic tv battlestar galactica

Another potentially underrated classic show, depending on whether you caught it when it originally aired, Battlestar Galactica is itself a reimagining of the '70s show. But it's a fascinating look at the question, "What happens if robots look like humans and turn against us?" and as compelling on rewatch as it was the first time.

'Doctor Who'

classic tv doctor who
classic tv doctor who

Like The Simpsons or Star Trek, this show has so many iterations that you could be watching or rewatching for a long time. The brilliant conceit of Doctor Who's "regeneration" into different forms (allowing the character to be played by different actors) means that you can choose your favorite Doctor(s) and watch their seasons as a standalone.

'The Twilight Zone'

classic tv Twilight zone
classic tv Twilight zone

Another show that has been rebooted (and allows for even more watching/rewatching abilities), the original black and white show is actually surprising disturbing, given its age. You might have to overlook some of the bad effects and just focus on the story, but it's worth it.

'The Mary Tyler Moore Show'

classic tv Mary tyler moore
classic tv Mary tyler moore

If you're curious, this show was groundbreaking for its time: A single woman? In a job? And the whole show revolved around her?? Mary Tyler Moore was divine as a sweet, determined, talented person—viewers fell in love with her—as well as the glorious supporting cast. Watch it again.

'Golden Girls'

classic tv Golden girls
classic tv Golden girls

One of the many things I like about The Golden Girls (beyond the obvious aspectthat not as many shows focus on older women, much less focus on their lives with compassion and relatability) is that it depicts female friendships in a hilarious but very human way.

'The Wire'

classic tv the wire
classic tv the wire

Lots of people caught The Wire in reruns/on demand, and it's considered to be the platonic idea of a cult classic. But it's hard to overstate the brilliance of the show's construction, with each season focusing on a different Baltimore institution; Rewatching only hammers home what a piece of art this show is.