5 Best TV Shows That Take Place In A Small Town

Here are our picks for the best TV shows set in a small town!

By Britta DeVore | Updated

There’s something about the allure of small-town life that has captivated television and film writers for decades. While some of these may be all fun and games, a few lean more on the darker side of our list of the Top 5 best TV shows that take place in a small town. From Hollywood legends like Kate Winslet to Sarah Michelle Gellar, we’ve got you covered on all the small-town drama.

5. Gilmore Girls (2000-2007)

There’s nothing quite like the bonds between family to make for a good sitcom. Throw in performances from stars like Lauren Graham, Alexis Bledel, Melissa McCarthy, and even Jared Padalecki and you have a masterpiece in the mix. First landing on The WB in the fall of 2000, Gilmore Girls was an immediate hit, quickly gathering a dedicated fanbase who loved the fast-paced quips between mother and daughter duo, Lorelai (Graham) and Rory Gilmore (Bledel).

Taking place in the fictional small town of Stars Hollow, Connecticut, we first meet Rory and Lorelai who are in a bit of a financial pickle after Rory has been accepted to the prestigious Chilton Prep. Forced to strike up a deal with her parents Emily (Kelly Bishop) and Richard (Edward Herrmann), Lorelai is willing to do whatever it takes to get her gifted daughter into the academy. 

What made this show especially great was that it went beyond the familial connections (although those were great too) and really demonstrated life in a tiny town where everyone knows your business. After a long-running stay on The WB and The CW, the curtain closed on Gilmore Girls in 2007 with much of the original cast returning for Netflix’s miniseries, Gilmore Girls: A Year in the Life in 2016.

4. Riverdale (2017-Present)

Sadly for Riverdale fans, the series is heading into its seventh and final season but to say The CW’s teen mystery drama has had a good run would be an understatement. A staple on the network since it first burst onto the scene in 2017, the complicated dynamics between those attending Riverdale High have been a joyous whirlwind for the fandom to watch.

While Cole Sprouse may have already been well known for projects like The Suite Life of Zack & Cody, Riverdale further launched him to stardom alongside the rest of the starring cast, KJ Apa, Lili Reinhart, and Camila Mendes.

Not only a hit among the teenage audience, but Riverdale also sucked in the adults, signing on major names including Scream actor Skeet Ulrich, Pretty in Pink’s Molly Ringwald, Twin Peaks’ Mädchen Amick, and the late Luke Perry. Taking a page from the Archie comics, the show put a darker and more mysterious twist on the beloved tale with murder lurking around every corner.

Not a show to be watched if you have a short attention span, over the years the pace has really picked up with some wacky and wild plots that have certainly kept its fanbase talking.

But all that insanity will surely be missed when the gang takes their final bows (in whatever way that may mean) in the upcoming Season 7

3. Twin Peaks (1990-1991)

kyle maclachlan

Although David Lynch and Mark Frost’s dark drama Twin Peaks originally only ran for two short seasons, it steadily gained a dedicated fanbase over the next two decades that would see to it that the show would get a well-deserved third season in 2017. Using the backdrop of the fictional, titular town in the dreary Pacific Northwest, Twin Peaks followed the story of the mysterious death of one of the community’s own – a teenager named Laura Palmer (Sheryl Lee).

When he’s assigned to determine who Laura’s killer was, FBI Special Agent Dale Cooper (Kyle MacLachlan) travels to the land of damn fine coffee and pie and leads the local police department on a twist-filled case packed with intrigue and even a supernatural element.

The project would be the Eraserhead and Dune director’s first foray into the land of television and while some found it to be too strange, it was a smash success with others, delivering one of the best finales in TV history. While the third season wouldn’t come to be for over two decades, the director was able to put the story of Twin Peaks into film form in the 1992 feature Twin Peaks: Fire Walk with Me.

2. Mare of Easttown (2021)

kate winslet

HBO absolutely struck gold when they signed on award-winning actress Kate Winslet for their one-season mystery drama, Mare of Easttown. After previously working with Winslet in the miniseries drama Mildred Pierce, we’re sure it was great for the network to reunite with the Titanic star for this award-sweeping production.

For her performance, Winslet would take home the Emmy for Outstanding Lead Actress while her co-stars Evan Peters and Julianne Nicholson also walked away with trophies from the celebratory night.

The series takes place just outside of Philadelphia where local woman and detective Mare Sheehan (Winslet) is investigating a murder. While the tiny town knows her as a high school basketball superstar, she hasn’t been able to shake the uncomfortable glances from citizens who are less than pleased that she’s failed to solve a missing persons case from years ago.

Cases collide on her new hunt for the mysterious killer in this series that stars a knock-out cast including Evan Peters, Jean Smart, Angourie Rice, Guy Pearce, and Julianne Nicholson.

1. Buffy the Vampire Slayer (1997-2003)

No list of the best shows that take place in small towns would be complete without a nod to the legendary series Buffy the Vampire Slayer, and we think that it deserves to be at the top spot. Launching the careers of its leading cast including Sarah Michelle Gellar, Alyson Hannigan, David Boreanaz, and more, the Joss Whedon-created series was the perfect blend of fantasy and reality, putting a twist on the old “high school is hell” trope.

Over seven seasons, Buffy wowed audiences with its packed action scenes, romantic storylines, heartbreaking episodes, and overarching message of girl power. 

By the end of the third season, it was clear that more could be told from this story with the creators giving David Boreanaz’s vampire with a soul, Angel, his own spin-off. While, in recent years, the production has been marked with a pox thanks to the alleged misdoings by its creator Joss Whedon, Buffy will forever hold a special place in the hearts of its dedicated fandom.