While some TV shows interrogate modern-day life or imagine humanity’s future, some of the most popular series retread familiar territory. All hail the period drama, one of the most enduring genres of entertainment, as old as the motion-picture medium itself.
“[Period dramas] transport us away from hard times in our own lives,” Dr. Kate Byrne, an English lecturer at Ulster University, told Cosmopolitan UK in 2022, reflecting on the success of Downton Abbey and Bridgerton. “When the world is difficult, viewers like to escape into glossy luxurious pasts, learning about history while forgetting for a while about the darkness of the present.”
Not all period dramas are glossy and luxurious, though, and some find plenty of darkness in our past. Here are our picks for the best period dramas of TV history, which collectively cover millennia of real-world history.