In the age of peak television, broadcast network shows often get ignored by critics.
But they shouldn’t be. In fact, they include some of the best shows on TV right now.
Without having to worry about appealing to a mass audience and advertisers, entertainment companies like HBO, Netflix, and Hulu have turned out ambitious projects over the past few years and raked in awards.
And some broadcast networks have taken note of what audiences love so much about shows like “Game of Thrones,” “Stranger Things,” and “The Handmaid’s Tale” and have tried to make it work for them. And some have definitely succeeded.
So it’s time to give them some recognition.
For this list, we considered shows on the broadcast networks NBC, Fox, ABC, The CW, and CBS; we excluded cable networks like FX, AMC, and USA.
With shows like the innovative comedy “The Good Place” on NBC and the reinvented teen drama “Riverdale” on The CW, these are the best network shows that should be on your radar.
Here are the 12 best network shows on TV right now, ranked:
12. “Great News” — NBC
- Eric Liebowitz/NBC
With Tina Fey and Robert Carlock as executive producers, “Great News” has a tone and sensibility very similar to “30 Rock” and “Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt.” The show, which centers on a news producer whose mother is hired as an intern, fires jokes as quickly as “30 Rock” and has very memorable characters and performances, particularly from Nicole Richie as the glamorous news anchor Portia Scott-Griffith and Andrea Martin as Carol Wendelson, the intern/mom.
11. “Designated Survivor” — ABC
“Designated Survivor” isn’t groundbreaking, but it’s trying to be, and that’s what makes it worth watching. Kiefer Sutherland plays a man who becomes the president of the United States after a terrorist attack during the State of the Union address. The country is divided and in turmoil after the attack, with few seeming to support the president they didn’t vote for. “Designated Survivor” follows a typical formula for a network political drama but isn’t afraid to kill off characters or take risks with twists that will surprise you.
10. “Brooklyn Nine-Nine” — Fox
Now in season five, “Brooklyn Nine-Nine” has maintained the quirky, positive spirit it established in season one. The show is about an NYPD precinct in Brooklyn and has a very similar tone to that of the workplace comedy “Parks and Recreation.” Further into its run, the writers started taking more risks with the characters’ positions as detectives, with major undercover jobs. In season four, two of its main characters got framed and spent the beginning of season five trying to prove their innocence from prison.
9. “Black-ish” — ABC
“Black-ish” expertly combines silly and serious. The show confronts issues people of color face, and as the show gets more into its groove it addresses the serious more and more. It not only brings some much-needed diversity to the network sitcom but also it educates. The sitcom is a silly family comedy everyone can relate to while addressing topics including gun control, police brutality, and the public education system.
8. “Fresh Off the Boat” — ABC
Like “Black-ish,” “Fresh Off the Boat” addresses issues that minorities in the United States face, specifically Asian-Americans. But “Fresh Off the Boat” has a nostalgic element, since it takes place in the mid-90s. The show follows the Huang family, who move to Orlando, Florida, from Washington, DC, to open a restaurant. It’s very funny, and Constance Wu drives the show with her incredible performance as Jessica.
7. “Superstore” — NBC
- Evans Vestal Ward/NBC
“Superstore,” starring the always amazing America Ferrera, depicts the people who make up most of the US yet are not usually represented on television in a thoughtful way: the lower and middle classes. The show is about employees at a superstore called Cloud 9 that’s similar to Walmart or Target … more so Walmart. The show isn’t afraid to go a little out there compared with other workplace comedies. In its Halloween episode this season, the corpse of an employee who died after getting stuck in a wall while trying to peep into the women’s bathroom was accidentally on display, and customers mistook it for incredible Halloween decor.
6. “Jane the Virgin” — The CW
- Danny Feld/The CW
In season one of “Jane the Virgin,” which is both a love letter to and parody of telenovelas, Jane, who is a virgin, gets pregnant after being accidentally artificially inseminated with the sperm of a very attractive, rich man she once had a crush on. In between the baby drama, the show includes love triangles, murder, and drug lords. The writers take a lot of risks with each season to change the pace of the show, including an unexpected major time jump in the middle of its third season that changed things for the better, right as the show was in danger of being a bit stale.
5. “Bob’s Burgers” — Fox
Cute, colorful, and clever are the best ways to describe “Bob’s Burgers.” The show follows the Belcher family, who run a burger restaurant. The show’s delightful characters are nearly as memorable as the catchy original songs and burger puns in every episode.
4. “This Is Us” — NBC
If it weren’t done so well, the Emmys darling “This Is Us” would be a terrible, overdramatic show. But the cast and the writing are such a perfect match that it gets away with reducing even the toughest viewers to tears every single week.
3. “Riverdale” — The CW
- Diyah Pera/The CW
“Riverdale” proves how much teen dramas have evolved since the ’90s and early 2000s. Yes, there are love triangles, high school, and terrible parents, but on “Riverdale” there’s also murder – and lots of it. As an extra bonus, the characters are based on beloved characters from the Archie comics.
2. “Crazy Ex-Girlfriend” — The CW
- The CW
Some people may be put off by the title of “Crazy Ex-Girlfriend” or the fact that it is a musical comedy. But the title is purposeful – and not meant to be offensive to women. And while it is a musical comedy, this show is nothing like “Glee.” Every song (usually one to three per episode) is original, funny, serves narrative purpose, and satirizes different kinds of music from Bruno Mars to Les Misérables. In its third season, the show is getting even more ambitious with a realistic and very dark look at a suicidal woman with a mental illness, all while remaining very funny. “Crazy Ex-Girlfriend” continues to break barriers. It will make you uncomfortable, but in a good way.
1. “The Good Place” — NBC
It’s shocking that “The Good Place” is on a broadcast network, and that’s a good thing. NBC is taking a note from streaming services like Netflix and Hulu by getting more ambitious with its lineup. “The Good Place” took a dramatic, hilarious turn with a shocking twist at the end of season one. The twist changed the show completely – but for the better. Season two has already gone places the show -and network TV – hadn’t before in its clever writing and stunning visuals. It’s also sticking around, because it was just picked up for a third season by NBC.