We have an unhealthy obsession with the end of the world. When we’re not busy misinterpreting Mayan calendars, we’re calculating dates from obscure biblical references. It’s probably why post-apocalyptic TV shows and movies tend to do so well. It may be an odd form of entertainment, but we love seeing a world ruined by plagues, monsters, and all sorts of other nasties.
While movies tend to have a budgetary edge over TV productions, it’s the latter that can really flesh out the lore of a post-apocalyptic universe. That has been made evident many times, but most especially with the following best post-apocalyptic shows. If you’re looking for a devastated world to escape to, consider any of these TV series, and you won’t be disappointed.
After secretly surviving his murderous escapade in Woodsboro, CA, Skeet Ulrich thought he would take on the apocalypse in the Kansas town of Jericho. Aired in 2006 for two seasons (and a series of comic books that continued the story), Jericho honed in on the small town trying to survive in the aftermath of a nuclear assault on the United States. The upsetting beginning of the series follows the nuclear blasts as they devastate the nation and isolate the town from any remaining civilization.
As many post-apocalyptic shows tend to, Jericho focused heavily on the community, and it was the people that really made the show interesting. Joining Ulrich was The Walking Dead actor Lennie James, The Last of Us Part II actress Ashley Scott, Deadwood alumni Gerald Lee McRaney, and the delightful Pamela Reed from Kindergarten Cop.
Unfortunately, Jericho never got to tell its whole story through the series, which means viewers never got to see that second American Civil War promised at the end of Season 2.
9. Van Helsing
If you were sorely disappointed in Hugh Jackman’s Van Helsing flop (and there is a very high chance that you were), SyFy has a surprisingly good post-apocalyptic series to fill the vampire-slaying void. Kelly Overton takes over the Van Helsing name in this fantasy horror drama, which follows Vanessa Van Helsing, a descendant of Abraham, as she wakes up from a coma to find a world without sun overrun by vampires. So, the premise blends a little of The Strain and The Walking Dead, but it works where it needs to.
What does separate Van Helsing from similar post-apocalyptic shows is Vanessa’s blood. Sure, she can go around slaying vampires, but unlike Buffy, she has the ability to turn vampires back into humans. It’s a neat touch that adds a dramatic touch to the show, especially as she becomes the target of the bloodsucking threat. Van Helsing is bloody, violent, and a neat twist on the classic character introduced in the 1897 novel, Dracula.
Overton is joined by Jonathan Scarfe (Hell on Wheels, The Equalizer 2), Christopher Heyerdahl (Stargate Atlantis), and Vincent Gale (Last Wedding). Van Helsing, which was inspired by the Helsing graphic novel, was renewed for a fifth and final season.
8. The Last Ship
Firefly alumni Adam Baldwin stars in this post-apocalyptic action-drama, and that’s really all you should need to know to be hooked. But if you want more, the series follows the crew of the USS Nathan James, a fictional destroyer that serves as the last beacon of hope after a virus wipes out more than 80% of the world’s population.
Based on William Brinkley’s 1988 novel, The Last Ship stars Eric Dane (Grey’s Anatomy), Rhona Mitra (The Practice), and Charles Parnell (All My Children). The series ran its course over five seasons, as viewership started to taper off. Unfortunately, The Last Ship has a very strong start and gets weaker and weaker as the seasons go on. However, it still does enough right to make the journey aboard the hopeless Nathan James a worthwhile one to embark on.
And to reiterate, it has Adam Baldwin. I’m not quite sure why that wouldn’t be enough to entice you to start watching.
7. The 100
Who would you send back to Earth to scope things out nearly 100 years after a nuclear apocalypse? Scientists or a group of uppity criminal teens? If you chose the latter, then The 100 is the perfect show for you. If you can look past that glaringly weird concept, The CW’s post-apocalyptic sci-fi drama is actually a really interesting show. Seeing how the juvenile delinquents handle being lab rats for the residents of the Ark space habitat holds well for the first season, but of course, there is more to their plight than dealing with each other.
The 100 survived for seven seasons, with actors like Eliza Taylor (Neighbours), Paige Turco (All My Children), Marie Avgeropoulos (Dead Rising: Endgame), and Bob Morley (Home and Away) delivering enjoyable performances. The show is a tale of survival, meaning characters are often forced to do the unthinkable to make it from one episode to the next. That’s where the bulk of the series’ enjoyment lies, with the decisions forced upon the scouting party of 100 youth.
If you wind up liking The 100, you’ll be happy to know a prequel series is in the works at this time of writing. The untitled series will take viewers to before the nuclear apocalypse that forced humanity into space.
6. Black Summer
Zombies. Everybody loves them, but not every production can grip that undead-loving crowd. Z Nation tried to capitalize on the momentum of shows like The Walking Dead, but the SyFy production didn’t quite scratch the same itch. Surprisingly, though, Netflix’s quasi-spin-off series, Black Summer, found its footing in the wake of Z Nation’s cancellation and has been doing a splendid job of delivering zombie drama horror across its first season.
Referenced in Z Nation, Black Summer is about the deadliest summer in the wake of the zombie apocalypse. The show picks up six weeks after the undead start to walk the earth, with Rose (Jamie King) stepping into the lead role. The relatively small cast makes it easier to care for characters and keep track of their sordid tales, but there is still plenty of death to go around.
Don’t expect incredible production value as the zombie design is a little on the simplistic design, but it doesn’t take away from the overall entertainment value. What can be a little difficult to get through is the oft-stale acting and remnants of Z Nation’s SyFy-level writing.
5. 12 Monkeys
Twenty years after Terry Gilliam’s 12 Monkeys hit theaters and impressed moviegoers, creators Terry Matalas and Travis Fickett attempted to bring the post-apocalyptic movie concept to a long-running series. Surprisingly, they succeeded in doing so over the course of four well-received seasons that took viewers across the timeline of history.
If you were a little confused by the time jumping in the movie, you might want to break out a pen and pad for the TV series. Aaron Stanford (X-Men 2) and Amanda Schull (One Tree Hill, Pretty Little Liars) lead a cast that includes Tom Noonan (Monster Squad, RoboCop 2, The Last Action Hero) in a story that jumps between different timelines.
Everything kicks off with a deadly virus released by the Army of the 12 Monkeys, but things get deeper as Stanford’s James Cole joins “Project Splinter” and travels back in time to stop the virus from ever being leaked. Of course, things are never as simple as they sound, which is why each episode tends to bounce viewers between the past, present, and future. It’s a little mind-bending but absolutely worth the effort of keeping up.
4. Into the Badlands
If you ever watched AMC during much of 2015, chances are you heard about Into the Badlands. The network pushed the new production to no end. After watching a few episodes, it’s pretty clear why. Not only do you get your dose of post-apocalyptic drama, Into the Badlands throws in some science fiction martial arts to whet your appetite. If that sounds crazy, that’s because it is.
The show follows Sunny (Daniel Wu) 500 years in the future. Civilization is near collapse due to a war that ravaged the world. Firearms are no longer in the picture, forcing fighters and nefarious individuals to rely on melee combat and crossbows. It’s a neat way to remove too-powerful guns from the picture so the show can really highlight its martial arts choreography.
The show’s six-episode first season is fantastic television but is followed by two mediocre seasons that basically thrive on the action. Quite frankly, it’s enough to hold the viewer’s attention. Unfortunately, AMC put an end to Into the Badlands, and the series officially ceased in May 2019.
Because it’s only 32 episodes long, it is absolutely worth a trip to the Badlands to enjoy the stellar world-building and notable performances by Orla Brady (A Love Divided) and Sarah Bolger (The Lazarus Effect, The Tudors).
3. Fear the Walking Dead
A spin-off of The Walking Dead, Fear the Walking Dead’s writers didn’t have the pleasure of using Robert Kirkman’s comic series as a framework for characters, settings, and scenarios. These original stories and brand new characters help flesh out the world of The Walking Dead and helps show what unfolded in different parts of the country.
While arguably not as strong as its source material, Fear the Walking Dead still holds its own, often borrowing from The Walking Dead to strengthen its ranks. Since it has aired, Fear brought on Morgan Jones (Lennie James), former Savior Dwight (Austin Amelio), and his ex-wife Sherry (Christine Evangelista).
Fear the Walking Dead, like The Walking Dead, isn’t shy about slaying its main cast, and those that may have tuned out during the first season and try to go back now will see all new faces. It certainly helped keep the show fresh, something that The Walking Dead had a few difficulties with over the past few seasons.
Fear the Walking Dead is scheduled for a seventh season and will continue to bring the zombie horror long after The Walking Dead is off the air.
Okay, so not every timeline in Dark is post-apocalyptic, but not including this German TV series on the list just seemed wrong. Why, you ask? Because it’s a fantastic piece of TV that excels at just about everything it does. If you don’t know German and have a hatred of dubs or subtitles, now’s the time to either learn the language or get over your distaste for foreign language productions.
The show starts with the disappearance of several children from the fictional town of Winden. As stories unravel and relationships are strained, the series feels like your average character drama framed by a larger tragedy. Then the show introduces time travel, and all bets are off. Viewers travel to the 1950s, 1980s, and the early 2050s to watch how everything comes together, including the vanishing children.
Dark ran for three seasons because that’s all it really needed. Sure, we’d love to see more of this Netflix production, but we appreciate ending a series before all the things it’s known for start to, like the children of Winden, disappear.
1. The Walking Dead
Robert Kirkman’s comic book series translated very well into a post-apocalyptic TV show about zombies and the plights of survival. What was most gripping was that the zombies were never the real threat. Though the first season holds true to the tropes of zombie horror, viewers started to enjoy The Walking Dead as a character drama as the show progressed. People are the real enemy in this world gone sour.
Andrew Lincoln (Love Actually, This Life) sets aside his British accent for the very-southern Rick Grimes. Say what you will about the quality of the writing and some of the decisions made, but Lincoln was consistently on point, delivering his best performance week after week. It was hard not to get sucked in by his charisma and charm, and it helps that he was supported by a strong cast that included Jon Bernthal (The Punisher), Jeffrey Dean Morgan (Supernatural), Laurie Holden (The Boy), Steven Yeun (Mayhem), Norman Reedus (The Boondock Saints, Death Stranding), Melissa McBride (The Happys), and so many more.
The zombies may have started to take a back seat once characters like The Governor arrived, but that never stopped the makeup department from going all out. The Walking Dead stands today as having some of the best zombie makeup, whether it’s a reference to other notable zombies of film or original creations like Hannah, the first episode’s bicycle girl zombie.
Even after Lincoln’s departure, the show was able to rely on Morgan, Reedus, and McBride to keep things churning. The series has kind of run its course and is scheduled to conclude after the eleventh season.
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