Politics are crazy, but they can be fun to watch. Is it any wonder some of the best TV shows of all time are quite political? Here are the 10 greatest political shows of all time to help you plan your next streaming binge.
Veep was an HBO show that ran from 2012 to 2019, starring Julia Louis-Dreyfus as a beleaguered vice president who tries to navigate insane Washington politics with her incompetent staff and achieve some semblance of relevancy. This satire of national politics won the show a number of awards, including three Primetime Emmy Awards. Veep deftly mocked politics without being overly partisan, depicting a lead who not only becomes the first female president but who is also willing to sacrifice her own stances, not to mention personal morality, to get and stay in power.
The West Wing
The West Wing was created by TV powerhouse Aaron Sorkin and ran on NBC from 1999 until 2006. In the show, Martin Sheen plays a Democratic president who is trying to positively impact the country while dealing with a ton of internal and external pressure. Airing during George W. Bush’s presidency, The West Wing has been both praised and criticized for depicting an idealized liberal president. Ultimately, the show earned its place as an iconic political show through outstanding production values and unmatched dialogue, and is an important document of a political show that ran both before and after 9/11.
House of Cards
Netflix’s first hit original series, House of Cards ran from 2013 to 2018, and was actually a U.S. adaptation of a 1990 U.K. mini-series. The series follows Kevin Spacey and Robin Wright as Francis and Claire Underwood, the Democratic House Majority Whip who plots to become president through any means necessary and his equally-power hungry wife. The hard-hitting and often over-the-top series depicted the seedy underbelly of Washington politics with melodramatic flair, but perhaps the over-the-top depiction wasn’t too far off from real life. NPR reported in 2017 that Russian cyber trolls were ordered to watch the series to learn about American politics.
The Handmaid’s Tale
Hulu’s hit dystopian series, airing since 2017, is an adaptation of Margaret Atwood’s 1985 novel, and Atwood herself is a producer. The Handmaid’s Tale stars Elizabeth Moss (of Mad Men fame) as Offred, a woman who lives in social and sexual subservience to Joseph Fiennes’ Commander Waterford in a dystopian patriarchal future where men take over America and force women to be servants. As relevant as ever in the MeToo era, The Handmaid’s Tale is a landmark political series.
24 was a Fox TV show that ran from 2001 to 2010 and again for one more season in 2014. It starred Keifer Sutherland as Jack Bauer, a counterterrorism agent that inevitably had 24 hours to save the president from assassins and other bad guys. The show reflected generally national anxieties after the 9/11 attacks and gave viewers a hero to root for as he triumphed over terrorism. It was revolutionary for its format of taking place in “real-time” (each episode in a 24-episode season represented an hour, so the entire season encompassed the events of one day).
The Wire was an HBO show that ran from 2002 to 2008. Dominic West played Jimmy McNulty, our primary character, though the show had a large ensemble cast that expanded every season, and is known for catapulting the career of actor Idris Elba, who played the memorable heroin dealer Stringer Bell. Every season focused on a different political issue facing Baltimore, ranging from the drug trade to corrupt journalism. To this day, The Wire serves as the benchmark for a prestige television show.
Parks and Recreation
A mockumentary successor to The Office with a local government bent, Parks and Recreation ran on NBC from 2009 to 2015. This show satirized politics by focusing on the antics of a small town Midwest Parks and Recreation department, starring Amy Poehler as the hardworking Deputy Director who tries to rally her co-workers to make a difference for their community. The show proved a launching ground for comedic actors including Nick Offerman, Aubrey Plaza, Retta, Aziz Ansari, and Guardians of the Galaxy star Chris Pratt. The lighthearted show is hailed by many fans as an example of politics done right.
Homeland began airing on Showtime in 2011 and will have its final season in late 2019. It focused initially on Claire Danes as a CIA agent who must determine if a Marine Corps sniper rescued from al-Qaeda was actually a sleeper agent waiting to turn on his country. This is another great show focusing on viewer anxieties toward war in the Middle East. Fans love the complex portrayal of the various characters for making these plots both realistic and terrifying.
Airing on ABC from 1996-2002, Spin City focused on what a funny mess local government is behind the scenes and generally served to mock New York City politics. It starred Michael J. Fox as a deputy mayor of New York (after four seasons Fox left the show as a result of Parkinson’s disease and was replaced by Charlie Sheen). Spin City‘s humane and hilarious handling of city politics makes it one of the best political shows of all time.
Madam Secretary is a CBS show that began in 2014 and is set to air its sixth and final season in 2020. The show stars Téa Leoni, who plays the Secretary of State in a role that many believe references Hillary Clinton, although the show has claimed no direct knock-off. But, a producer admitted the inspiration to do a show about a female Secretary of State came from the Benghazi hearings! Madam Secretary has received various acclaim and honors, including two Humanitas Prize nominations.