A group of young women traipse through the woods in "Little Women"
(PBS)

Let’s Get Classy With the 10 Best PBS Masterpiece Shows, Ranked

I’m tired of all these lurid true crime documentaries, grimdark Norwegian detective thrillers, and messy teen dramas. I want class. I want cutting remarks over watercress sandwiches and romantic trysts in rooms that smell of rich mahogany. I want the best PBS Masterpiece shows, ranked.

Recommended Videos

10. Poirot

A mustachioed man stands by the seaside in "Poirot"
(PBS)

Why is Poirot dope? 1. It’s Agatha Christie. 2. Poirot’s mustache. For those two reasons, Poirot makes the list. It’s a comfort watch, a low-impact mystery series about a mustachioed detective who solves criminal capers the old fashioned way, with well reasoned deductions and parlor room confessions. It’s theatrical, classy, and just a little bit silly in all the right ways. How could you not be charmed by the man? With his cute little hat? His little cane? Puttering around putting the pieces together? It’s like biting into a warm croissant as a show. You may know exactly what you’re gonna get, but it’s gonna be good.

9. Sanditon

Rose Williams as Charlotte Heywood in 'Sanditon'
(PBS)

What’s this? Jane Austen wrote an unfinished novel? And the good people at PBS decided to finish it for her? O happy day! Sanditon revolves around a young woman named Charlotte Heywood, who moves to a quaint little seaside town and has to insert herself into the lives of its residents. The series paints a unique portrait of race and social class in Regency Era England that is notably lacking from other period dramas, due in no small part to Georgiana Lambe, the only Black character that Jane Austen ever created.

8.The Durrells in Corfu

The Durrell family having a picnic in the ocean in The Durrells in Corfu
(PBS)

You know what the worst part about England is? The weather. Rainy, dark, depressing. That’s why the Durrells decide to leave! The eccentric Durrell family decide to pull a Leonard Cohen and move from dreary old England to a beautiful island in the Greek archipelago. It’s a delightful fish out of water series, with widow Louisa Durrell and her four children navigating life in a foreign country. It’s proof that no matter how far you travel, your troubles will still follow you, and not even the crystal clear waters of the Aegean can wash them all away.

7. All Creatures Great and Small

The cast of All Creatures Great and Small
(PBS)

Animals! Big ones! Little ones! Medium-size ones! All Creatures Great and Small is about all of them. The series is about James Herriot, a young veterinary surgeon taking care of animals in the Yorkshire Dales in the 1930s. Curiously, James Herriot is also the pen name of the man who wrote the novel that the series is inspired by. Go figure! It’s a lighthearted series that trades parlor room romance and marriage drama for down and dirty tales of animal doctors! A welcome change—animals are so much easier than people.

6. Poldark

A shirtless man stands by the seaside in "Poldark"
(PBS)

An adaptation of Winston Graham’s novel of the same name, Poldark tells the story of Ross Poldark, an English veteran of the American Revolutionary War. After returning to his hometown, he finds that his father has died, his estate is in shambles, and his lady love is engaged to his cousin. Boooo! They really couldn’t have made it easier on the poor guy? Now poor Ross has to pick up the pieces of his life, ever so painstakingly.

5. Wolf Hall

A nobleman gives a knowing look at another character in "Wolf Hall"
(PBS)

Based on the Booker Prize-winning novels by Hilary Mantel, Wolf Hall is a historal drama about Thomas Cromwell’s rise to power in the court of King Henry VIII. Anyone who knows English history (which is probably you, given your interest in the genre) knows that this particular court was rife with drama. Beheadings. Marriages. More beheadings. Intrigue. Backstabbings. Throw in another beheading in there, for good measure. The series is lauded for its historical accuracy and gripping narrative, not for the faint of heart.

4. Little Women

A group of young women traipse through the woods in "Little Women"
(PBS)

Louisa May Alcott’s classic coming-of-age novel is given a stunning new live action adaptation! For those who didn’t read it in school, Little Women chronicles the lives of the March sisters, Meg, Jo, Beth, and Amy, in Civil War-era Massachusetts. Love. Warfare. Family. Heartbreak. These poor girls have to deal with a lot. Little women is a story centered around character growth, innocent childhood’s end and adult beginnings.

3. I, Claudius

A man in a toga speaks a speech in "I, Claudius"
(PBS)

No more British stuff! We’re leaving the island! We’re going back to the days of the Roman Empire! For those whose Roman Empire is the literal Roman Empire, they’ll be thrilled to learn that I, Cladius is narrated by the fourth Roman emperor Claudius and tells a historical tale beginning with Julius’ Caesar’s assassination and ending with the rule of Claudius himself. It’s about as close as you can get to real-life Game of Thrones-level drama. Power. Intrigue. Betrayal. The political works. You wanna see 2,000-year-old history brought to life? Look no further.

2. Downton Abbey

Downton Abbey poster featuring from left to right Joanne Froggatt as Anna Bates, Jim Carter as Charles Carson, Dan Stevens as Matthew Crawley, Maggie Smith as Violet Crawley, Hugh Bonneville as Robert Crawley, Elizabeth McGovern as Cora Crawley, Penelope Wilton as Isobel Crawley, Michelle Dockery as Lady Mary Crawley, and Brendan Coyle as John Bates
(PBS)

The Titanic sunk, and with it sunk James Crawley and his son Patrick, the heirs to the Downton Abbey estate. Disastrous. The surviving members of the family are rocked by the tragedy and must scramble to figure out how to keep the crumbling estate alive. Their solution? Make a distant cousin the new male heir. The problem? He knows nothing of being an aristocrat. Unlike other period dramas, Downton Abbey dives deep into the lives of the servants of the house, as well, which are just as messy as the upper class elites they serve. Thankfully, Maggie Smith is there to level the playing field by roasting everyone in equal measure.

1. Pride and Prejudice

Jennifer Ehle as Elizabeth Bennet and Colin Firth as Mr. Darcy
(PBS)

C’mon. It’s Pride and Prejudice, dare I say the definitive live action adaption of Jane Austen’s most famous novel. The story is brought to life in this charming, perfectly cast miniseries featuring Jennifer Ehle as the spirited Elizabeth Bennet and Colin Firth as the enigmatic Mr. Darcy. The power of the series comes from the God-tier source material, which I daresay may be the best enemies-to-lovers arc ever told in fiction. The jewel that is the story is further polished by the top-notch acting and the stunning sets and costumes. If we ever have to send an example of Regency drama to an extraterrestrial civilization and could only fit one DVD on the spaceship, this version of Pride and Prejudice should be the one we choose.


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Jack Doyle
Jack Doyle (they/them) is actually nine choirs of biblically accurate angels crammed into one pair of $10 overalls. They have been writing articles for nerds on the internet for less than a year now. They really like anime. Like... REALLY like it. Like you know those annoying little kids that will only eat hotdogs and chicken fingers? They're like that... but with anime. It's starting to get sad.