Updated: Best Amazon Prime Instant Video TV shows: 25 essential Amazon Prime TV series

Best Amazon Prime Instant Video TV shows

Amazon Prime Instant Video

Amazon had a stuttering start when it came to taking on Netflix in the big streaming battle and it wasn’t until the company put its full weight behind original programming that it started to see some real gains.

Since then, Amazon Prime has grown into a media powerhouse. Taking, and in some ways surpassing, Netflix’s self-serving model to produce its own content, Amazon now has a bevy of television shows that are begging to be watched. The choice of what to watch is a difficult one, but that’s where we come in.

We’ve curated a list of the best Amazon Prime Instant Video TV shows around. Chosen by the team, these are the shows streamed in the US that are “Instant” classics primed to offer hours of compulsive viewing.

It’s worth noting these are shows that can be watched for free when you have Amazon Prime access, not to be confused with the hundreds of shows you can watch through Amazon for a fee. And, just like our best Netflix TV shows guide, we’ll keep this list constantly updated if any new shows come to the service that we feel need to be included.

1. The Wire

Best shows on Amazon

Shows about cops and robbers were a dime a dozen in the late ’90s, early 2000s. It seems like every week there was a new crime drama that either took place in the courthouse or out on the streets where gritty, foul-mouthed badges upheld the law with a sidearm and implacable morals.

The Wire had some similarities to those shows, sure, but if you watched carefully enough the profound differences started to appear. The series wasn’t afraid to talk about race and racism in the courts, nor would it back down from showing the lives of people on the fringe of society. It gave you truly deep characters on both sides of the law that you wanted to succeed, and some you just couldn’t wait to see bite a bullet. If you forgot what HBO looked like before swords and sorcery, The Wire is worth tapping into for one last ride around the block.

Seasons on Amazon Prime Instant Video: 5

2. Alpha House

Best Amazon Prime Instant Video TV shows

One of the first successes to come from the Amazon Originals program, Alpha House is the antithesis of Netflix’s House of Cards. Yes it has a political edge but the back stabbing is replaced with a little bit of rib tickling. John Goodman is superb as one of four US senators shacked up in the same house.

While the humor may get a little too dry for some, there’s warmth in the cynicism and a strange amount of believability in the characters. If you were to choose one comedy that lampoons US politics then go with Veep – but Alpha House is a decent second.

Seasons on Amazon Prime Instant Video: 2

3. Mad Dogs

Best Amazon Prime Instant Video TV Shows

Dramas have become all-too-easy to predict. There’s a line drawn in the first episode between good and bad, and while there can be some crossover late in the second or third season, it’s tough to feel truly surprised anymore. That said, Mad Dogs breaks every convention and isn’t afraid to pair goofy, slap-stick comedy with surreal scenes of intense violence just to make you sit up and pay attention.

A US revamp of the 2011 series of the same name, Mad Dogs is one of the most adult offerings from Amazon’s in-house studio, easily taking the crown from Bosch or Hand of God. It goes from The Hangover to The Godfather without warning and has the potential to be one of Amazon’s first breakout dramas.

Seasons on Amazon Prime Instant Video: 1

4. True Blood

Best shows on Amazon Prime Instant Video

One of the biggest advantages Amazon Prime Instant Video has over Netflix is its massive back-library of HBO programming that will make anyone with a monthly subscription salivate over. While each show could have its own entry on this list we instead chose to highlight the best of the bunch, starting with The Wire. A close, though vastly different second is True Blood, a show about the preternatural, social issues and sex. Lots and lots of sex. And if that tag line doesn’t sell you, nothing will.

Seasons on Amazon Prime Instant Video: 3

5. 24

Best shows on Amazon Prime Instant Video

Despite CSI and Curb Your Enthusiasm’s launch the year prior, many claim that 24 was the first great TV series of the new millenium. The show starred Kiefer Sutherland as Jack Bauer, a counter-terrorism agent whose life is crumbling down around his ears.

The show’s themes of terrorism and politics were especially poignant after the 9/11 attacks in New York City, and its exceptional writing, directing and acting only further cemented its place as a cultural touchstone in a turbulent time. While the last three seasons don’t have quite the same appeal as the five previous ones (read: don’t watch anything after season 5), 24 remains one of the best thrillers of the aughts.

Seasons on Amazon Prime Instant Video: 8

6. Bosch

Best Amazon Prime Instant Video TV shows

With 20-something novels to mine for source material, Bosch is a character that was always destined for the small screen. Created by Michael Connelly but brilliantly brought to life by actor Titus Welliver, the series follows the exploits of LA Homicide detective Harry Bosch and features enough grit to pave the longest of driveways.

This is no surprise – the series has been created by Eric Overmyer, who was part of the alumni that created The Wire. Bosch is another show that has been put together by Amazon Studios – proving that streaming services are becoming just as powerful as the HBOs of the world when it comes to producing compelling drama.

Number of seasons on Amazon Prime Instant Video: 1

7. Fringe

Best Amazon Prime Instant Video TV shows

Everyone who loves and watches Fringes will describe it differently to you. Some will say it’s The X-Files come back from the dead. Others say it’s a crime drama with a sci-fi spin, a fever dream divinely realized by writer/director J.J. Abrams.

However you talk to and however you hear it described, the word most commonly tossed around is brilliant. From the show’s writing to the on-screen chemistry between the actors, everything collides into an engulfing take on the traditional whodunnit.

Number of seasons on Amazon Prime Instant Video: 5

8. Hand of God

Best shows on Amazon Prime

Actor Ron Perlman has been known to play some devious, psychologically unsound characters, but his latest one – Judge Pernell Harris – might take the cake. Hand of God follows Perman’s character in his descent into madness, where divine providence and real-world consequences meet and lives are forever changed.

In the vein of Memento, you’ll question Pernell’s sanity and whether anything is really happening or if it’s all in one man’s deeply troubled mind. The twist on the show is that it leans on biblical themes to add stakes – philandering, extortion and murder are commonplace here. Don’t go in expecting any of it to make sense in the first few minutes, or to leave the first season feeling happy-go-lucky. This is one dark ride.

Number of seasons on Amazon Prime Instant Video: 1

9. Key and Peele

Best shows on Amazon Prime Instant Video

If you couldn’t guess by the previous entries on this list, we’re pretty big fans of drama, action and suspense. And while there’s nothing better than a high-stakes courtroom battle to get the blood flowing around prime time, we find it necessary to counterbalance it with a comedy before calling it a night. Key and Peele is perfect for that.

Poignant, funny and always on-point, Keegan-Michael Key and Jordan Peele’s show about both nothing and everything should be a staple in every comedy lover’s queue.

Seasons on Amazon Prime Instant Video: 3

10. Red Oaks

Best shows on Amazon Prime

Red Oaks is Amazon’s answer to Netflix’s Wet Hot American Summer prequel. It’s raunchy, lays heavily into stereotyping and is absolutely hysterical. It’s formulaic and kitchy, sure, but if ABC isn’t afraid to venture into that territory with The Goldbergs, neither is Amazon.

An Amazon-exclusive, Red Oaks focuses in on David (played by Craig Roberts, a minor player in 22 Jump Street and Neighbors) as he navigates the sex, drugs and egotism that comes with being a 20-year-old college student. The show, named after the Red Oaks country club where David works, serves as the perfect backdrop for a summer of shenanigans and tremendously fitting for the loss of innocence theme the show has going.

Seasons on Amazon Prime Instant Video: 1

11. Hannibal

Best shows on Amazon Prime Instant Video

If you like gore-fest crime scene investigation shows like Dexter, Hannibal is so good it’s scary. The series follows FBI special agent Will Graham (played by Hugh Dancy) through a string of gruesome murders. Lauded and feared for his ability to empathize with the psychopathic perpetrators he’s tasked with unmasking, Graham is assigned to none other than psychotherapist (and devout cannibal) Hannibal Lector for treatment.

While the excess blood can be a bit much at times, show creator Bryan Fuller strings us along Hannibal’s descent into madness through the eyes of a charming if somewhat troubled protagonist. If you like your shows like an undercooked steak – bloody – Hannibal is exactly what you’ve been craving.

Seasons on Amazon Prime Instant Video: 2

12. Firefly

Best Amazon Prime Instant Video TV shows

Joss Whedon’s short-lived sci-fi show had all the trappings of a long-running success (witty scripts, likeable characters, space) but it was hobbled beyond repair when it was first shown on television. Episodes were shown out of order and it was put in a graveyard slot.

Thankfully, none of this deterred the faithful few who loved Mal and his ragtag team of space cowboys so much that Firefly was pushed into cult classic status and even given a movie to wrap things up. Don’t be put off that there is just one season here – it’s a show that’s small but perfectly formed.

Seasons on Amazon Prime Instant Video: 1

13. Justified

Justified

He may not have had the best career in movies, but Timothy Olyphant has become a TV stalwart thanks to a brilliant performance in Deadwood and an even better one in Justified. The premise of Justified is wafer thin – a Miami marshal is reassigned to his backwater home town after a bullet-strewn altercation – but Raylen Givens’ (Olyphant) relationship with his family, old friends and foes is forever riveting and frequently bloody.

Seasons on Amazon Prime Instant Video: 5

14. Man In The High Castle

Best Amazon Prime Instant Video TV shows

There have been a number of successful Amazon pilots that have made it to a full series but none have the epic potential that Man In The High Castle has. This adaptation imagines what the world would be like if Germany had won World War II and the Nazis had taken global control. Turns out it’s a bit worse than us all driving around in VW Beetles and wearing Hugo Boss coats.

Seasons on Amazon Prime Instant Video: 1

15. Downton Abbey

Best shows on Amazon Prime Instant Video

Shows on British politics have existed since the dawn of television, but none of them were as weirdly captivating as Downton Abbey, a show about social status, entitlement and posh, rich people doing posh, rich people things. After airing in 2010 on ITV in Ireland and the UK, the glacier-paced series took the entertainment world by storm thanks to its exceptional cast and historically accurate acting and attire.

Seasons on Amazon Prime Instant Video: 4

16. Parks and Recreation

Best Amazon Prime Instant Video TV shows

We always knew Amy Poehler was funny. Sketch after sketch on Saturday Night Live proved she had the comedic timing of a professional stand-up mixed with the creative capacity of an executive producer. Each episode of Parks and Rec is a chance to see Poehler do what she does best, with an excellent supporting cast of Nick Offerman, Chris Pratt, Aubrey Plaza and Rashida Jones behind her every step of the way. While we were sad to see the show come to a heart-wrenching conclusion this year, the finale in February was the perfect excuse to go back and binge-watch the entire series from start to finish.

Seasons on Amazon Prime Instant Video: 5

17. Orphan Black

Best Amazon Prime Instant Video TV shows

Some dodgy accents aside, it’s a joy to watch Tatiana Maslany take on the multiple roles that are needed for Orphan Black. She launches herself into every one of the characters and is the constant that is needed to make this sci-fi yarn watchable. One of the reasons Orphan Black works so well is that it doesn’t take itself too seriously but when it does it makes you believe in the myriad plotlines that flow through the series.

Currently Amazon is only streaming the first season but by all accounts that’s a good thing – the second season and beyond are proving that maybe the source material can’t stretch that far. You will still have lots of fun, though.

Seasons on Amazon Prime Instant Video: 1

18. Stargate SG-1

Best shows on Amazon Prime Instant Video

Speaking of Ron D Moore and his original masterpiece, Stargate, it’s number 18 on our list. A sci-fi mega series that takes you to the edge of the universe and back, Stargate SG-1 picks up where the eponymous 1994 film left off. Beloved for its ever-evolving characters, wildly creative settings and insanely interesting mythology, the show continues to be in the top five must-watch series in its genre seven long years after it ran its course.

Seasons on Amazon Prime Instant Video: 10

19. The Good Wife

Best shows on Amazon Prime Instant Video

The Good Wife sets out at a breakneck pace. Within the first five minutes we’re introduced to Alicia Florrick (played by the award-winning Julianna Margulies) whose husband has recently been charged with sexual and political corruption. Fast forward six months and Florrick is out treading her own path as a lawyer on a pro bono case that seems to have all the odds stacked up against her. Toss in the familial fallout she faces at home and the career challenges of being a lawyer in a state where everyone knew your former husband and you have the basis of the emotional problems Margulies’s character faces.

The Good Wife is a meditation not only on marital infidelity but the difficulties of getting a late start in life. As masochistic as it is addicting, The Good Wife is definitely worth 30 minutes of your night.

Seasons on Amazon Prime Instant Video: 5

20. How I Met Your Mother

Best Amazon Prime Instant Video TV shows

HIMYM’s winning combination of actors and actresses (like American Pie’s Alyson Hannigan, Jason Segel and Neil Patrick Harris), plot twists and red herrings, set the stage for one of the must-watch sitcoms of the last decade. Getting sucked into Ted Mosby’s search for “the one” is a heartfelt and earnest affair as you root for everyone to succeed and the group to keep it together for one more episode. Whatever you think of the final season, the on-screen chemistry feels downright natural and Ted’s struggle, albeit a bit drawn-out and convoluted, is relatable on the most basic of levels.

Seasons on Amazon Prime Instant Video: 9

21. Sons Of Anarchy

Best Amazon Prime Instant Video TV shows

Seemingly always vying for the top spot of Best Recently Finished Drama (we may have made up that award) with Breaking Bad, Sons Of Anarchy is a long brooding menace of a show that deserves your attention. Centered on a motorcycle gang that live by their own rules (you can probably guess what their name is from the title) the show is positively Shakespearean in its storytelling and will have you gripped from episode one.

While Ron Perlman steals the show as Clay, Charlie Hunnam’s Jax is one of the best tortured souls you will see on any television show. Beware that only six series are currently streaming on Amazon Prime – you will have to wait a little while before the fitting final season heads to the service.

Seasons on Amazon Prime Instant Video: 6

22. Drunk History

Best shows on Amazon Prime Instant Video

Drunk History is the perfect execution of an idea someone came up with after a night of drinking. Essentially a lesson wrapped in a comedy skit, Drunk History uses real, bonafide actors and actresses to tell the story of semi-accurate historical events. Each episode has its share of great takeaways, fun facts of American figureheads and at least one person hunched over a toilet seat, vomiting.

Seasons on Amazon Prime Instant Video: 2

23. Transparent

Best Amazon Prime Instant Video TV shows

Anything Netflix can do, Amazon Prime can do better it seems, especially when it comes to winning a Golden Globe. Netflix may have made history by being the first streaming service to win a Golden Globe, courtesy of the acting talents of Kevin Spacey in House of Cards, but Amazon went and topped this by winning the Best TV Show prize in 2014 for Transparent.

It was much deserved. Transparent is everything you want in a TV show. It’s heartwarming, funny and packs a real punch about a subject that doesn’t get enough attention: transgenderism. Jeffrey Tambor’s Maura Pfefferman is a television character we hope will be around for a long time.

Seasons on Amazon Prime Instant Video: 2

24. Vikings

Best Amazon Prime Instant Video TV shows

If you have any interest in Norse mythology then the name Ragnar Lothbrok will mean a whole lot to you. Basically he was a king and powerful ruler that was a right git to the English and the French.

Vikings is a series that traces his Norse-based goings on with enough charm and scope to take on Game of Thrones in the sword and sandals stakes. Yes it takes a number of liberties with its source material but the acting is top class, as is the cinematography in a historical romp that’s now deservedly in its third season.

Seasons on Amazon Prime Instant Video: 3

25. Avatar: The Last Airbender

Best shows on Amazon Prime Instant Video

There’s no better show to end a best-of list with than Avatar: The Last Airbender. This deceivingly profound cartoon-anime hybrid packed deeply complex emotions, eastern philosophy lessons and amazingly choreographed fight scenes into 30-minute segments and short-sold them to children and adults with an open mind and an eye for beauty. The series ran for three seasons and picked up an Emmy in 2009 before taking a multi-year hiatus. The hiatus wouldn’t end until The Legend of Korra picked up the mantle, and lovingly continued one of the greatest animated shows of all-time.

Seasons on Amazon Prime Instant Video: 3

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