A Definitive Ranking of Every Season of Every TV Show That Mattered

These rankings are indisputable. If you disagree, maybe stop taking these things seriously.

This article is from the archive of our partner .

Last night Edward Snowden told Brian Williams all about the TV he's been binge-watching during his Russian exile and said something that started a familiar ball rolling on the internet.

"That’s the beauty of the internet, is that we’re no longer tied to our communities merely by physical connections. Right now I’m watching a show, The Wire, about surveillance, which is— I’m really enjoying it. Second season’s not so great."

Oh boy. Edward Snowden enjoyed the first season of The Wire, with the cops and the drug dealers, then rolled over to season two and whined, "What's with all these longshoremen? This all feels very on the nose!" Just as predictably, half of Twitter came rushing to season 2's defense and the other half came to bury it, largely in the form of "season rankings" lists like this one (to James Poniewozik's credit, he's winking at the dumb format).

Let's cut it with the arguing. Here, below, are the definitive rankings of every season of ten of the internet's most-debated TV shows. Explanations are given below, but note that this is DEFINITIVE. These rankings are indisputable. If you disagree, maybe stop taking these things seriously.

Battlestar Galactica
Correct Ranking of Seasons: 2A, 3, 1, 4B, 2B, 4A

Honestly, with these half-seasons. The first part of season two is essentially unadulterated perfection, with A+ excursions to Caprica and Kobol, the SMH-ness of Tigh as commander of Galactica, and Michelle Forbes showing up at the end like a scary archangel. Then as soon as Forbes left, the second half of season two took a straight-up break from being awesome. Just like six straight episodes of whatever, before remembering to blow our minds again at the end when Baltar won the election and ruined everything. Season three is the entirety of the New Caprica arc, plus the aftermath of the New Caprica arc, plus the part where like eighteen people you totally trusted turned out to be Cylons. Season one is amazing and basically arm-wrestled the rest of the TV-watching public into giving it respect. Season four was super uneven in both halves, but the noodling around waiting for the endgame to begin in 4A was definitely inferior to the actual endgame of 4B, which is not nearly as bad as some people say it is. —JR

Buffy the Vampire Slayer
Correct Ranking of Seasons: 3, 2, 5, 4, 1, 6, 7

For starters, I don’t want to hear it about season six being underrated or accurately reflecting post-college malaise or taking the Slayer to her dark, isolated endgame. Buffy was an undead mope for the first half, Willow was shooting up magic into veins between her toes in the second half, and Buffy + Spike ruined the show. (“Once More with Feeling” was great. Duh.) Season three is the best because Faith is the best, and season three had the very most Faith of all the seasons. Out of 22 season three episodes, two were bad (three if you count “The Zeppo,” which we don’t). TWO. “Amends” and “Dead Man’s Party.” Everything else is either good or great. That is an insane batting average. Season two started off slow but then Angel turned bad and shit got amazing. Some people don’t like season five because of Dawn, but those people are wrong. And season five is great because of Glory anyway. Season four is maligned for its awkward college-freshman transition, and there are some real stinkers in there, but it has more moments than you remember. Season one is okay but only “Prophecy Girl” holds up. Season seven is an abomination except for the Anya episode and the one with the enchanted letterman’s jacket. —JR

Correct Ranking of Seasons: 4, 3, 2, 1, 5, 6, 8, 9, 13, 15, 12, 10, 11, 7, 14

Those first three are largely equal, but Maria Bello and "Exodus," the show's definitive episode, kinda seal it for me, plus Hathaway and Ross are tight in that season. Season six is the last good season. Season eight has some good episodes. Everything else is a matter of separating wheat from chaff and involve a whole lotta chaff. Season 15 gets some bonus love for bringing back a lot of the old favorites. Many of the double-digit seasons include preachy multi-episode trips to Africa that were mind-blowingly dull and didactic. —DS

Correct Ranking of Seasons: 5, 4, 2, 3, 1, 6, 8, 7, 9, 10

Jesus Christ, there were ten seasons of Friends. Okay! Season five is the best because it’s Chandler and Monica trying to keep their relationship under wraps, which improbably stayed funny over the course of fourteen episodes and STILL managed to pay it off with the best episode of the series (“The One Where Everybody Finds Out”). Season four has the trivia contest episode, so that’s your runner up, no arguments. Season two was really the only time Ross/Rachel was truly great (Rachel’s drunk “closure” phone call), plus Monica + Richard was a great extended storyline. Ross and Rachel on a break in season three was fun until it wasn’t. Season one finds its bearings way quicker than most TV shows do, actually. Season six … you know, happened. Season eight taught a post-9/11 America how to laugh again. Season seven had Tag and Rachel’s worst-ever hairstyle. Season nine was the one where they cast Aisha Tyler as the pivotal character See, We Do So Have Black People. You don’t remember anything from season ten except the finale, and stop pretending like you do. —JR

Gilmore Girls
Correct Ranking of Seasons: 3, 4, 1, 2, 5, 6, 7

Fact one: Jess (the season three boyfriend) is better than Dean (the seasons one and two boyfriend). Fact two: season four, Rory's first at college, is very underrated partially because it mostly lacks Rory boy drama and features both Chris Eigeman and the eventual Luke/Lorelai union. Seasons one and two are heady shots of the best-remembered and very lovable la-la-la Stars Hollow experience. Season five is the best the show did with Luke and Lorelai together, but it's still not quite right. Season six is flawed. Season seven is an unspeakable nightmare that I'm still waiting on Doctor Who to fix. —DS

Correct Ranking of Seasons: 5, 1, 4, 3, 2, 6

Season five remains a sci-fi masterpiece that actually got complicated time travel retcon plotting right and makes your heart hurt when the Incident happens to rip it all apart. Sawyer and Juliet living in the '70s is what matters. Season one is why we all fell in love. Season four is when we all fell back in love (frozen donkey wheel). Season three starts on the worst foot, then tries to win us over and succeeds by the end ("WE HAVE TO GO BACK"). Season two is a bit of a slog with the numbers and the hatch and whatnot, but Desmond. Let's all admit that we wish season six had gone very differently. —DS

Correct Ranking of Seasons: 5, 4, 7, 3, 6, 2, 8, 9, 1

The best seasons of Seinfeld spiral out from the middle, and that’s just all there is to it. The biggest debate is season four vs. season five. Four has the stronger throughline, with Jerry and George writing their pilot, all the way up to its premiere. But four also starts out with that godawful two-parter where they go to L.A. and Kramer gets caught up in some noir murder subplot; no one in good conscience could rank that as anyone’s best. Certainly not above a season that gave us “The Hamptons.” Quibbling over seasons 2, 3, 6, and 7 is allowable, but basically: seven has George’s engagement to Susan, two is still getting on its feet, and three and six are basically equally fantastic. Season eight of Seinfeld is probably better than the very best season that 90% of all sitcoms have managed to produce, and it’s the third-worst of these nine seasons. Don’t fuck with Seinfeld, seriously. Everybody remembers how bad the final season was, but have you tried watching any of the five first-season episodes lately? Unbearable. —JR

The Sopranos
Correct Ranking of Seasons: 5, 1, 6B, 3, 2, 4, 6A

It's really unfair to count all of season six together cause they don't have much to do with each other, so 6B (the last nine episodes) gets bumped high because it has so many show-stoppers. Still doesn't beat five (Aid!) or one (therapy) which have complete tales to tell, not just wrap-up to do. Basically all of The Sopranos is good, even the moody fourth season, but for season 6A, which builds up to not much, meanders around in New Hampshire with Vito, and ends like a wet fart. Related: The Sopranos is the best television show of all time. The Wire and everything else can suck it. —DS

The West Wing
Correct Ranking of Seasons: 2, 3, 1, 4, 7, 6, 5

Season two had Ainsley Hayes, “Two Cathedrals,” “The Stackhouse Filibuster,” “17 People,” Bartlett’s MS, and Mrs. Landingham. There will be no questions. You could probably flip a coin between seasons three and one, especially if you lump “Isaac and Ishmael” in with season three, which we are not, because that episode never happened. And if you disagree with 3 > 1, I will just cite Mandy Hampton and be done with it. Season four is actually pretty great up through the election, and then everybody forgets to have ideas for episodes and Sam gets written off as an afterthought (as does Amy Gardener, for that matter). Season seven is crazy underrated, and you should watch it some time. Just check your texts or play Candy Crush during the scenes about Toby leaking secret NASA information. Just keep it about Santos and Vinnick and Janeane Garofalo. Season six ends well but begins with Leo’s heart attack at Camp David, which feels like it happens across four episodes, all of which are aggressively unpleasant to watch. Plus it has the all-time worst West Wing episode, where we learn that Leo and Kate Harper’s paths once crossed in Cuba, because hey, might as well be Lost now. Season five is shockingly horrible, even worse than you remember, packed with about eighteen different bad ideas designed to make the show into another show altogether (crises! villains! bottle episodes!). That Glenn Close episode about the Supreme Court was pretty great, but literally nothing else was even good. —JR

The Wire
Correct Ranking of Seasons: 4, 3, 1, 2, 5

Season four is the one with the school children and is probably the most definitive, complete arc the show ever accomplished. It informs everything else the show is talking about—the politics, the drug dealing, community policing, the STATE of INSTUTITONS in the UNITED STATES—and it lands the biggest emotional punch. Right behind is season three, because the fraught philosophical concept of Hamsterdam does a lot of the same things, and the closing montage is set to "Fast Train." And, well, Avon/Stringer. The first and second seasons are great and evenly matched; the fifth is David Simon standing atop a garbage fire ranting about print journalism's appetite for sensationalism. —JR

This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.