The Best Horror TV Shows of the 21st Century, from ‘Twin Peaks’ to ‘Hannibal’
ManOfTheCenturyMovie Tv The Best Horror TV Shows of the 21st Century, from ‘Twin Peaks’ to ‘Hannibal’

The Best Horror TV Shows of the 21st Century, from ‘Twin Peaks’ to ‘Hannibal’

The Best Horror TV Shows of the 21st Century, from ‘Twin Peaks’ to ‘Hannibal’

Generally speaking, TV is a less frightening medium than film. (Broadcast news notwithstanding.) Part of that’s the serialized nature of the format; it can be difficult to get really scared wondering whether Scully and Mulder will make it out of any given “X-Files” nightmare when there are 18 or so installments left in the season and you know the show can’t go on without its star characters. It doesn’t help matters that network standards have also kept horror TV decidedly tamer than anything found in R-rated horror efforts for decades; you just can’t put a Rob Zombie or Eli Roth joint anywhere.

And yet, in spite of those disadvantages, the genre has positively flourished on television as of late, with plenty of creepy limited series and spooky serialized dramas bringing terror to the small screen. Audiences curious about what caused this phenomenon can thank “American Horror Story,” a famously inconsistent show that was nonetheless a ratings sensation when it premiered on FX in 2011 and revitalized horror TV across Hollywood.

The success of the Ryan Murphy-helmed anthology seemed to make shows that delved into the macabre much more appealing to network executives. Series that specifically marketed themselves as horror projects, like “Hannibal” on NBC and “Bates Motel” on A&E, became much more common sights in the years after AHS aired. These shows got good ratings, leaning on strong direction and suspense to make TV as scary as it could possibly be. Streaming also helped to broaden the genre’s power in the medium as horror filmmakers, like Mike Flanagan, began pumping out multiple prestige horror adaptations for Netflix. These trends combined to bump the genre from rarely seen to practically omnipresent on television. But what, in this glut of horror shows, stands out as the best of the best?

To qualify for IndieWire’s list of the best horror TV of this century, the main criteria is that the show needs to have aired the majority of its episodes after January 1, 2000. So the “Buffy” spinoff “Angel,” which premiered in 1999 and aired most of its seasons in the 21st century, counts. However, “Buffy” itself does not and is excluded from this ranking — along with “The X-Files,” which aired all but two of its seasons in the ’90s (minus the revival, which we choose to forget about). Another exception is a certain revival season of another influential ’90s horror hit, “Twin Peaks,” which came out years after the original series concluded and is too important and influential to ignore.

There’s also the matter of what defines horror, which is a trickier proposition. Is anything with vampires or werewolves in it inherently a horror TV show? We decided not. Series, such as “The Vampire Diaries,” which never aimed to scare their audiencse despite featuring monstrous characters, do not qualify. What about other fantasy shows that often thrilled and scared, like “Lost” and “Game of Thrones?” Those series had other priorities beyond pure horror, so we left them off for now. Instead, we focused on shows that truly made the gruesome and the depraved their bread and butter, from “American Horror Story” to “Bates Motel.”

Read on for IndieWire’s list of the 11 greatest horror series of the 21st century. Entries are unranked and listed in chronological order. For now, we’ve implemented a one-project-per-auteur rule (sorry, Flanagan!) and will not include TV movie anthologies (sorry, “Into the Dark”!) With that in mind, honorable mentions include “The Haunting of Hill House,” “The Haunting of Bly Manor,”  “Guillermo del Toro’s Cabinet of Curiosities,” “Monsterland,” “Yellowjackets,” “Chucky,” “iZombie,” “The River,” and “Dead Set,” and “Black Summer.”

With editorial contributions by Marcus Jones and Ben Travers.

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