Best Amazon Prime TV shows: 25 essential shows on Amazon Prime

Update: Emmy season is officially upon us! The 69th Emmy Award nominees were announced earlier this month and it seems like Amazon might be taking home some hardware this year. (Again.) Nominated for awards this year are Transparent, The Man in the High Castle, Mozart in the Jungle and Catastrophe, all of which are Amazon originals and, coincidentally, appear on our Best Shows on Amazon Prime gallery.

Good news, your Amazon Prime subscription comes with hundreds of the best TV shows (and movies) – for free. Bad news, that's a lot to choose from.

That's why we've gone ahead and listed the best Amazon Prime Instant Video TV shows you can stream in the US. Notice, there are more Amazon Instant Video Originals than last year, with the online retailer trying to compete with the original TV shows that are now a large part of our best Netflix TV shows.

What's the best Amazon TV show to get sucked into without regretting it by the end of season 2? Read our Prime Video recommendations to find out.

It's 2017, but we remember when shows about cops and robbers were a dime a dozen in the late '90s and early 2000s. Back then, there was a new crime drama seemingly every week 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: All 5 seasons

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 

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

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: 6

To be honest, we’re surprised that Amazon has been so quiet about The Grand Tour. We’ve seen nothing about it anywhere. No adverts, no trailers, no Jeremy Clarkson selling his soul to promote Amazon products… nope, nothing. 

And that's surprising because The Grand Tour might be the best show on Amazon Prime Video this year.

Each episode is a more grandiose version of the Top Gear specials, with the presenters sent off to far-flung lands – sometimes with actual cars. Amazon needs this to be a hit, Clarkson need never worry about money again and as for the quality of the show: well, you might say it packs one helluva punch. 

Seasons on Amazon Prime Instant Video: 1

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: 3

Now into its second series, Mozart in the Jungle was this surprise winner at the 2015 Golden Globes, where it won Best Comedy Series. The show is a comedy set in the strange world of classical music. Gael García Bernal plays young conductor Rodrigo who replaces a retiring conductor played by Malcolm McDowell. Based loosely on a true story and created by the likes of Jason Schwartzman and Roman Coppola, it's well worth a watch.

Number of seasons on Amazon Prime Instant Video: 3

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: 2

While social media was all a'twitter about Aziz Ansari's Master of None on Netflix, Amazon stealthily released a rom-com of its own that rivals, and in some respects even outplays, its quirky competitor.

The show is called Catastrophe and stars Rob Delaney, Sharon Horgan (who The New York Times so aptly described as the UK's Tina Fey) and Carrie Fisher in an unexpected-pregancy-turned-love-story that's two parts Knocked Up, one part Annie Hall. Catastrophe excels at blending the nuanced cultural differences between the two main characters and the horrible awkwardness of falling in love in nine month's time. Horgan's character is a bit blunt, more cynical and slightly wittier than her significant other, while Delaney's is slow-witted but wonderfully polite in all the best ways. 

Seasons on Amazon Prime Instant Video: 3

Focusing on the exploits of hacker Elliot (a superb Rami Malek), Mr Robot is Fight Club for the Tor generation, lifting a lid on a world where what Linux kernel you use is not just a badge of honor but a way of life. It's brooding at times and there's a political slant that hides just beneath the show's warm glow.

Amazon recently added the second season of the show to the streaming service, so there's no time like the present to get sucked into the madness.

Seasons on Amazon Prime Instant Video: 2

Let me set the stage for this one: It’s 1969, and there’s a war going on in America. The war is being fought in business offices around the country and the group leading the charge are women in the workforce, fighting for equal rights and equal acknowledgement for the work they’ve performed for years. Good Girls Revolt is set in this backdrop, at a fictional news outlet where the women have for too long been swept under the rug.

The show scores major points for its poignant subject matter – both in the way that it covers the struggles of women in the workplace pre-1970, but also in the way it handles talking about the American history that the women in question are tasked with covering. Part raunchy history lesson, part stellar drama, Good Girls Revolt is a smart interpretation of a still-ongoing issue.

Seasons on Amazon Prime Instant Video: 1

The '80s is the en vogue decade when it comes to nostalgia. Not only are Seth Gordon and Adam Goldberg mining the era for their superb prime-time sitcom The Goldbergs, Red Oaks has appeared to prove that it is respectable to set shows in the '80s. Amazon-exclusive Red Oaks – made by another Green, this time David Gordon – focuses on David, a tennis player at the Red Oaks country club and his summer shenanigans. Great casting – Jennifer Grey! – some brilliant nods to '80s films, a short run time means this is a series you can eat up in one neon-fuelled sitting.

Seasons on Amazon Prime Instant Video: 2

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: 6

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 and Japan 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.

The Man In High Castle has been renewed for a third season, and you can watch the first two seasons for free via Amazon Prime Instant Video.

Seasons on Amazon Prime Instant Video: 2

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: 6

If you like Louis C.K.’s stand up, you’re going to love Louie. It’s dark. It’s funny. It makes us look at ourselves and our situations and just think “Huh, I guess it could be a lot worse.” Each episode is divided into two parts: a stand-up segment where Louie tells jokes to a faceless audience and a fictional vignette that either refutes or enforces the previous joke. So how can a comedian’s life, even a fictional version of it, be funny? We have no idea, but it just works.

Seasons on Amazon Prime Instant Video: 5

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 plot lines that flow through the series.

Amazon Prime Instant Video now offers all four seasons of the show with a subscription. 

Seasons on Amazon Prime Instant Video: 4

Sneaky Pete's plot maybe a little cliche – a con man assumes the identity of someone else to try and make a new break in the world – but Giovanni Ribisi is superb as Marius, the titular character and there's plenty of intrigue to keep you glued to this new Amazon Original. 

Interestingly, the show is co-created by Bryan Cranston which makes him the streaming king, given he's done so well with Breaking Bad on Netflix. Don't expect Sneaky Pete to be as intense as Breaking Bad – it's a crime caper, yes, but it doesn't take itself too seriously, mixing in some jokes between tense scenes. 

Seasons on Amazon Prime Instant Video: 1

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: 7

The Americans is a cracking crime period thriller that follows the exploits of a couple of KGB agents posing as US citizens around the time Ronald Reagan became US president.

It may occasionally flit between the ridiculous and the sublime but you would expect nothing more from a show that's main conceit comprises characters dueling with duality. The '80s setting is fantastic, too, though there aren't enough shell suits for our liking.

Seasons on Amazon Prime Instant Video: 4

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. And now Amazon Prime Instant Video is streaming all seven seasons of the show.

Seasons on Amazon Prime Instant Video: 7

The full title, All or Nothing: A Season with the Arizona Cardinals and its sequel All of Nothing: A Season with the Los Angeles Rams, are pretty self-explanatory. 

But what you might not glean from the title is how much blood, sweat and tears went into the making of this show and the teams that provide your entertainment Sunday, Monday and Thursday nights. 

Anchored by head coach Bruce Arians and narrated by Jon Hamm, All or Nothing plays out like an ESPN 30 for 30 documentary, pacing itself with moments of tension followed by heart-warming victories or crushing letdowns. While Netflix's Last Chance U might have the market cornered on college ball documentaries, All or Nothing takes the genre to the pro leagues.

Seasons on Amazon Prime Instant Video: 2

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: 3

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 fifth season.

Seasons on Amazon Prime Instant Video: 5

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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