Here are some of the most visually stunning TV shows ever made

As television continues to become more cinematic and the divide between streaming and network shows narrows, the cinematography and set design of small-screen entertainment becomes more awe-inspiring every year. An influx of creative talent willing to take risks in the medium has given us stories that are not only well-written, but rich in visual wonder. In some ways, television has become bolder than cinema, with long storytelling allowing for brilliant shows like Legion to experience incredible visuals and psychedelic storytelling.

Without these changes, a show like Fargo wouldn’t be able to reference its cinematic predecessor so convincingly, expanding on the original Coen Brothers universe with iconic visuals. Thanks to the cinematic sensibility of shows like Thread and Mad Men, many are now harnessing the power of well-crafted shots to hook viewers. Set and costume design has also contributed to the making of period dramas like Boardwalk Empire and Downton Abbey so enjoyable and immersive. Revolutionary advancements in visual effects and increasing television budgets have made shows like game of thrones possible. Seriously, Jar-Jar Binks walked so these dragons could fly. As these innovations progressed, the shows were able to tackle increasingly fantastical and supernatural material. As a result, the limits of what’s possible on the small screen continue to expand.

While successful low-budget and less innovative shows often exceed four or five seasons, more visually daring (and conceptually heavy) shows are often canceled after relatively short runs. Some, however, have found their groove. Focusing on quality over quantity has immortalized the following nine shows as some of the most jaw-dropping series of all time.

9 Sense8


People sitting on sofa hugging in Sense8.
netflix

It’s easy to see the bold influences of the Wachowski sisters, the dynamic duo behind The matrixin the rich and colorful world of Sense8. This supernatural drama follows a global group of eight individuals who discover they share a psychic connection that transcends language and geography, from Mumbai to Mexico. As the telepathic “sensates” grow accustomed to their new connections, they build on each other’s strengths, using them against the organization trying to capture them. A truly global show that envisions the world as a beautiful place worth saving, Sense8 was a visual gem that deserved more seasons.


8 Dark


The boy stands in front of a cave.
netflix

In Dark, a small German town on the edge of the Black Forest has a troubled history of disappearances. Things get stranger when teenage Jonas and his friends go deeper into the woods for answers, only to open a Pandora’s box that complicates time and space. The aesthetic of this stunning German series can best be described by its title and the way it presents each episode. The striking visuals begin with each episode’s opening credits, a beautifully kaleidoscopic opening sequence you won’t want to skip. If you come for the look of the show, you’ll definitely want to stay for the twisty and intricate plot of this international treasure.

Related: These Are Some Of The Most Underrated TV Shows Of All Time

7 Yellowstone


Men on horseback on a mountain in Yellowstone.
Primal Network

Yellowstone has bucked Network TV’s declining ratings trend, becoming a runaway success over the past few years. Along with its compelling character dynamics and family drama, viewers were treated to the stunning, open landscapes of Big Sky Country. Filming in Utah and Montana, the vast vistas of the American West speak for themselves in this series. The new prequel, 1883, brought more of the same eye candy and added period detail, giving viewers a glimpse into Dutton’s ancestral journey west.


6 Euphoria


Hunter Schaefer and Zandaya at a party in Euphoria.
HBO

One of the most popular (and meme-worthy) TV shows right now, HBO’s Euphoria isn’t your average high school drama: it’s a beautifully shot and well-crafted piece of visual art. The series experimented with digital formats, and the second season was shot entirely on 35mm Kodak Ektachrome. Scroll through your Twitter feed and you’re bound to see at least one photo from the show – maybe it’s Sydney Sweeney as Cassie, crying in front of her mirror, surrounded by roses, or Zendaya as Rue, soaking wet of violet and drugged light – happiness. What the show lacks in writing, it certainly makes up for in style — its makeup and outfit trends have taken TikTok by storm and become a Zoomer hit.

5 the OA


Brit Marling on a boat in The OA.
netflix

gone far too soon, the OA remains one of the craziest and most visually inventive shows ever to stream. Prairie reappears in her suburban Michigan town after being missing for seven years. Once blind, she returns with her vision, a new name, and strange tales of captivity and near-death experiences. Much of the power of Prairie’s stories lies in the visuals of the series – a collage of styles and genres that really create the feeling of interdimensional travel. The second season took the innovations of the first one even further, a modern techno-noir vision of San Francisco that took us on a captivating journey into the imagination of creators Brit Marling and Zal Batmanglij. Hopefully they can follow up their brilliant and shocking cliffhanger one day.


4 Leftovers


Carrie Coon on a bike in The Leftovers.
HBO

Leftovers remains an underrated masterpiece. One of its strengths is its uncompromising visuals, some of the most beautiful to ever grace our television screens. Breathtaking camerawork and meticulous design helped bring realism to its supernatural premise. As the characters moved states and then continents, the series never lost its meticulous attention to detail, though it evolved visually, including more expansive planes and a brighter palette. The colorful architecture of Jarden, Texas, the setting for season two, contrasted beautifully with the dark blues and greens of the season one setting in upstate New York. For the show’s final season, which is set in Australia, set designer Jon Paino worked with Aboriginal artists to design and decorate the set.

3 Westworld


Aaron Paul sitting with a robot in Westworld.
HBO

Imaginative world-building has defined Westworldit’s captivating vision of the future, with breathtaking architecture and the magnificent landscapes of its or its central robot theme parks. This drama adapted the classic ’70s film using modern technology and set design, supporting its sci-fi premise with powerful visual effects and sleek cinematography. The wonders have only grown as the story has branched out to include more than the initial Wild West park, the story of the Robot Revolution spilling over into the real world and more. Delos parks – even a “Westeros”. The stunning 2058 version of the series gave us a technologically advanced (albeit morally corrupt) Los Angeles. What treasures will season four bring?


2 Hannibal


Hugh Dancy and Mads Mikkelsen seated in a forest in Hannibal.
NBC

The terribly creative Hannibal sets a new standard for visual horror, creating intricate crime scenes and artful gore to savor. Showrunner Bryan Fuller’s brainy horror idea involved sculpted deformed bodies, dinner parties that seemed worthy of a Michelin star (don’t think too much about the ingredients), and gripping dream sequences. The show traces the love/fear relationship between Hannibal Lecter (Mads Mikkelson) and criminal profiler Will Graham (Hugh Dancy). Its breathtaking and exquisite settings make Hannibal’s atrocities both terrifying and appealing to Will and to us.

Related: Here’s What Makes NBC Hannibal the best reading adaptation

1 american gods


bilquis-starz-1

Although he had a relatively short and under-the-radar run, american gods (created by Bryan Fuller, who also did Hannibal) boasted stunning visual effects and outstanding creativity. Based on a dark, whimsical novel by Neil Gaiman, the series faced a serious challenge adapting its fantasy world for television in the post-social media world. The plot follows Shadow Moon, a recently released convict who is embroiled in a war between the gods, old and new. Pitching the ancient gods of Slavic and Norse legends against the modern gods of the digital age allowed for compelling storytelling and a fantastical visual world. Her beautiful and strange visions, like a Fire Jinn in a New York cab, or the goddess Bilquis working the streets of Los Angeles, are impossible to shake.


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