The 10 best Ryan Murphy shows, ranked
Ryan Murphy is a complex creature. He's the guy who made such poignant, critically acclaimed television centered around marginalized stories previously lost to history. He's also the guy who gave us Matthew Morrison performing "Toxic" with a bunch of teens on Glee.
The writer and producer is a man of many shades, which makes considering his body of work just as layered of a discussion. His shows often give us the best and the worst of his brand, sometimes in the same season. (The high of the Coven witches of American Horror Story as instant glamazons met the low of Gabourey Sidibe simulating sex with a Minotaur.) Sometimes, you don't know what you're gonna get.
Below, EW attempts to rank the top 10 best series Murphy's ever brought to the screen — with the exception of AHS, since that is its own thing, for the purposes of this mission.
10. Hollywood (Netflix)
Okay, full disclosure: Hollywood is not a great show. It's barely even a good show. But this lavish period drama — about a diverse group of stars and Tinseltown hopefuls who band together to make a movie — is the only Ryan Murphy Netflix series besides The Watcher that's worth your time. (Sorry not sorry The Politician, Ratched, Halston, and Dahmer.)
Co-created by Ian Brennan (Glee), Hollywood imagines a post-war America where anyone — African-Americans, Asians, homosexuals, women — can succeed in show business. While the plotting can be clumsy, the cast is having a blast — especially Dylan McDermott as Ernie, the gigolo owner of Golden Tip Gas, and Patti LuPone as Avis Amberg, the imperious and neglected wife of a studio mogul. —Kristen Baldwin
9. The Watcher (Netflix)
Who was watching The Watcher? Everyone apparently. (Though, can we really trust the streaming numbers these days?) Netflix is going all in on what was supposed to be a limited series with a season 2 renewal it definitely doesn't need. Heck, the jury's still out on if it needed one season.
The show is inspired by a New York magazine article about a married couple, Naomi Watts' Nora and Bobby Cannavale's Dean, who move into their dream home and are tormented by an unseen stalker who's keeping a watchful eye on the property. The slow-plotting and mild twist ending to the semi-whodunit bogs The Watcher down, but Jennifer Coolidge could just stand there in an eight-second video, say one word, and people would watch the heck out of it. (Oh wait!) —Nick Romano
8. Feud: Bette and Joan (FX)
Oscar winners Jessica Lange and Susan Sarandon going head-to-head as Oscar winners Joan Crawford and Bette Davis — is there a more Ryan Murphy sentence in the English language?
This eight-episode drama explores the longstanding rivalry between Crawford and Davis as they teamed up to film Whatever Happened to Baby Jane? — and why that animosity continued to rage on even after the film became a hit. As EW's Jeff Jensen wrote, Feud is "a showcase for two brilliant actresses, Jessica Lange and Susan Sarandon, and a slick, sad scolding of Hollywood's treatment of women." The full season is streaming now on Hulu. —K.B.
7. Scream Queens (Fox)
Scream Queens doesn't get enough credit in the over-arching Murphy multiverse. The camp factor alone has been replenishing gay men's electrolytes since 2015 with GIFs of Emma Roberts' acerbic takedowns and Lea Michele in a neck brace. Now it feels like the "Chanels" social media challenge is keeping TikTokers happily fed with content.
Running for two seasons, Scream Queens took us to Wallace University, where the viciously posh Kappa Kappa Tau sorority girls were targeted by a newly re-emerged serial killer stalking campus in a red devil costume. It was over the top and gratuitous in all the right ways. (It gave us shirtless Glen Powell before the Top Gun football scene.) And, hello! Keke Palmer. Even in a show that sometimes wasn't as smart or innovative as it thought it was (maybe that's why there were only two seasons), the Nope star proved she could do anything with whatever material you give her — and was more iconic in this role than the Ariana Grande ponytail's starring turn. —N.R.
6. Pose (FX)
When Pose was first announced in 2017, the drama from Ryan Murphy and Steven Canals made headlines for its history-making cast, which featured the most trans series regulars ever on an American TV show. But what truly makes Pose special is its beautifully rendered — and wickedly funny — stories about the importance of chosen family. As EW proclaimed when naming Pose one of the best shows of 2018, the series is "a tender tale about a mom and her kids. Yes, the mother is an HIV-positive trans woman named Blanca (Michaela Jaé Rodriguez) and her children are lonely LGBTQ outcasts, but their struggles are the same: Set the table. Stay off drugs. Practice safe sex. Know your worth."
Over the course of three fierce seasons (streaming now on Hulu), Pose gave us moments of hilarity (see: Dominique Jackson's Elektra reading people for filth) and heartwarming inspiration (Blanca's season 2 finale lip-sync still gives us chills). The category is: must-watch TV. —K.B.
5. Popular (The WB)
It only lasted for two seasons, but the legacy of this high school dramedy — created by Murphy and Gina Matthews — lives on.
Starring Leslie Bibb and Carly Pope as social rivals turned reluctant stepsisters, Popular introduced viewers to the genius of Leslie Grossman (as terrifyingly odd rich girl Mary Cherry); gave professional sweetheart Christopher Gorham his first leading TV role (as brainy nice-guy Harrison); and it also served as a kind of proto-Glee. There's Josh (Bryce Johnson), the football star who wants to join the school musical; Nicole (Tammy Lynn Michaels), the queen bee cheerleader who torments the unpopular kids; and Mr. Grant (Chad Lowe), the dreamy faculty advisor who makes Pope's Sam McPherson swoon.
Popular is a perfect '90s time capsule, and an unabashedly weird, dark, and funny show about surviving high school. When will a streamer rescue this series from oblivion? (Until then, bootleg episodes are available on YouTube.) —K.B.
4. Nip/Tuck (FX)
To classify Nip/Tuck as a "medical drama" feels like the equivalent of calling Get Out a musical or comedy. (We're looking at you, Golden Globes.) Yes, the whole premise is centered around the professional and personal lives of two plastic surgeons, Sean McNamara (Dylan Walsh) and Christian Troy (Julian McMahon), but the series, which launched on FX in 2003, was so horny that you forgot these guys were doctors.
The show has a complicated history. Many times it was too provocative for its own good, which is the case with many of Murphy's works. (Remember that story arc with Famke Janssen as a trans woman that did not age well?) But then you also get the kind of gay sex fantasies that fan-fiction is made of, a laxative-juiced woman pooping in a hot tub, and Jennifer Coolidge as the white rapper version of Rachel Dolezal. And in summation of those absurdities, you can see the makings of the same Murphy that would create jarring mental images like the Rubber Man of AHS and Jane Lynch as Nicki Minaj in Glee. —N.R.
3. Glee (Fox)
Everyone has been questioning the legacy of Glee since... We don't even have to say it. There's a whole documentary dedicated to that subject, though some of the cast members consider it trash. Listen, the show deserves its criticism. Most of us can probably pinpoint the moment we stopped watching. If you made it to the "Let's Have a Kiki" and "Turkey Lurkey Time" mash-up with RuPaul's Drag Race star Shangela, you were doing a good job.
Whatever you think about the show, however, it's undeniable: Glee was a cultural moment. A group of disparate teens, all feeling out of place for one reason or another, come together to make a cappella and show choir a joint phenomenon. Let's just say it: Pentatonix wouldn't have a career without Glee. But the show was also, at its best, incredibly emotional and fiercely in tune with issues of the day. Amber Riley's Mercedes, Chris Colfer's Kurt, and Naya Rivera's Santana changed lives. —N.R.
2. 9-1-1 (Fox)
What did Angela Bassett do on 9-1-1? Um, she did the thing. Ariana DeBose's ear worm aside, she really did. That's one part of why the show elevates the tired procedural drama to new heights.
Another contributing factor is the presence of Murphy's exaggerated scenarios that teeter on the edge of madness. A tiger shark on the freeway! The biggest escalator proposal fail of all time! A runaway flying bouncy house! Baby in the toilet! Come for the absurd situations, and by the time you get to the guy who got stuck on one of the spinning brushes at a car wash, you'll find the stories of these emergency responders have gotten under your skin in unexpected ways. —N.R.
1. American Crime Story (FX)
Both of EW's TV critics agree: This star-studded anthology from Ryan Murphy and Brad Falchuk was one of the best shows of the 2010s. Unlike far too many true crime adaptations, ACS doesn't just recreate sensational criminal cases, it challenges us to reckon with how we chose to construct and consume those narratives at the time.
The three installments (streaming on Hulu) range in quality from good to incredible, and they can be prioritized thusly: Start with The Assassination of Gianni Versace, a haunting chronicle of serial killer Andrew Cunanan (Emmy winner Darren Criss), who primarily targeted gay men. After that, settle in for The People v. O.J. Simpson, a dazzling reexamination of the Trial of the Century that managed to rehabilitate the unjustly tarnished public image of prosecutor Marcia Clark (Emmy winner Sarah Paulson). If your true crime thirst still isn't sated, try Impeachment, which EW described as "not as emotionally resonant as the previous ACS installments," but still a "gripping and challenging retelling of a presidential scandal." —K.B.
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