Ten hidden gems in the vast world of television that you should see before something tragic happens to you. Hey, I’m just saying.
When I scroll through Netflix’s offerings, I can’t help but feel overwhelmed. It happens all the time, actually, and has gotten so bad I try to limit how much time I spend on the app (or website, if I’m on the computer).
It’s definitely a first-world problem, this anxiety of having too many options, and in the category of digital entertainment, no less. But I’m not here to place some kind of ethical value on our society’s luxuries, or prance around on a high horse. In fact, I’m here to exacerbate the situation.
You see, I know you feel the same way I do. I would even go as far as to say it’s worse for you, because I actually don’t watch any TV at all in the traditional sense. So if you own a TV, and if you have cable or satellite or whatever the kids call it these days, you must be bombarded all the time with ads, suggestions, and recommendations.
Unfortunately for you – and perhaps for me – it’s about to happen again. But before you click the top right corner and run screaming for the hills, these ten TV shows are quality creations that don’t get the attention they deserve.
Just stay by my side; I’ve been good to you so far, haven’t I?
Say what you will about the British, what with their snobby attitudes and raised pinkies, but they know how to make some damn good TV series. In honor of our superior brothers and sisters, the first five shows hail from the other side of the globe.
Quick note: some of these British shows are “diamonds in the rough” only to a reading audience that is primarily American – or you, statistically speaking.
Blackadder (1983 – 1989)
Before Rowan Atkinson was Mr. Bean, and before Hugh Laurie was House, they starred on a BBC period sitcom that was collectively called Blackadder. The four seasons/series were all set in a different historical time period, with Atkinson, Laurie, and others like Stephen Fry reprising their same general roles.
This is a sharply sarcastic comedy, with Atkinson portraying Blackadder, a scheming and conniving individual who is the very definition of an anti-hero. It’s truly a shock seeing the contrast between Blackadder and Mr. Bean.
Hugh Laurie is a pleasant shock too, since most people know him from the American show House, and not his previous comedic endeavors (the legendary Stephen Fry and Laurie were actually something of a comedy duo back in the day – the more you know).
It’s really funny and has aged well, like a fine wine or Asian women. Wait what!?!?
Black Mirror (2011 – present)
Technology and humankind are bound together for better or for worse. Black Mirror explores the “worse” part and does it in some of the most twisted ways imaginable. It’s an anthology, which means each episode features different actors, actresses, and stories.
Highlights include the Prime Minister fucking a pig, a special “grain” or implant that records everything you see in HD, and a robotic Domhnall Gleeson.
Just be warned, series creator Charlie Booker is infamous for his harsh and often grotesque satirical views. In Black Mirror, he has complete freedom to explore those views and this isn’t for the faint of heart. It is also fairly depressing, so again: pace yourself.
Garth Marenghi’s Darkplace (2004)
Darkplace is a perfect horror parody of what low-budget television was like in the 1980s. The acting is deliberately terrible, with the cardboard of the bunch being Richard Ayoade as Dean Learner, Garth Marenghi’s publisher, who in turn portrays Thornton Reed on Darkplace.
The six episodes are shown as kind of a documentary reflecting on Darkplace‘s cultural impact, with each episode starting with an inadvertently funny intro by Garth Marenghi (Matthew Holness), an “author, dream weaver, visionary, plus actor.” His role in Darkplace is Dr. Rick Dagless, who has a tendency to fire a Magnum revolver at (in)appropriate targets.
But the funniest character might be Todd Rivers (Matt Berry), an actor who portrays Dr. Lucien Sanchez. Berry/Rivers delivers his lines in an inexplicably deep voice and tends to fail at lip-synching all the time.
Look, that was a terrible explanation. I guess I’m still in a daze over how cheesy this show is.
Bonus: all episodes are on YouTube!
Luther (2010 – 2013, 2015?)
Inspired by the skills of Sherlock Holmes and the inverted detective format (shows the crime actually happening) of Columbo, Luther is a dark and gritty interpretation of London crime and the people with the thankless task of stopping that crime. The excellent Idris Elba portrays the titular detective and received Golden Globe and Emmy nominations every year.
Even better, the opening credits are dope.
Peep Show (2003 – present)
This cult hit features comedy duo David Mitchell and Robert Webb and uses a cool gimmick where every camera shot is a point of view angle (POV) from a character, even if that character has no lines and no relevance to the show’s larger picture in any way, shape, or form. That means a common theme will be a main character walking down the street and the audience getting a view via a random pedestrian passing by.
But aside from interesting cinematography, Peep Show is your typically sharp and witty British comedy. The chemistry between Mitchell and Webb is excellent and I personally like how Webb’s character is a total idiot, while Mitchell’s character is much more uptight and paranoid about the silliest things.
It’s a tradition for them, I suppose, since that’s the general gist of their roles in That Mitchell and Webb Look, a sketch comedy series that is also worth a… look.
Say what you will about the Americans, what with their greasy attitudes and fat thumbs jammed up their asses, but they know how to make a lot of TV shows. In honor of, um, ourselves, the last five shows hail from pretty much here. Right here. Or there. Somewhere!
Brooklyn Nine-Nine (2013 – present)
Our country’s current relationship with the police is dubious at best, so it may come as a surprise that a comedy(!) about cops is more than just something to fill a time slot for Fox. With an excellent ensemble cast rivaling historically consistent comedies like Parks and Recreation, Brooklyn Nine-Nine regularly delivers.
It isn’t the most sophisticated comedy… which is to be expected since Andy Samberg is involved. But have no fear: the fictional NYPD 99th Precinct is ready to make you laugh with humor that stems from your typical banter to physical acts of incompetence.
Also, this show is more realistic than you might think, which makes sense (that’s what I read somewhere, although I can’t find the source now). Imagine trying to work in an environment like Criminal Minds. Gross.
With two Golden Globes under its belt already, I think Brooklyn Nine-Nine is here to stay. You know, as long as Fox doesn’t fuck up like they did with Arrested Development and Firefly.
Bob’s Burgers (2011- present)
Speaking of Fox, there’s an animated show out there that’s a little weird and a little quirky, and that show is Bob’s Burgers, which many people know about because H. Jon Benjamin voices Bob and he also happens to voice Sterling Archer from Archer.
If you’re an oddball, you’ll like it. I like to think of it as one of those shows where you watch an episode and you think nothing happened, but then you think about it and there was a plot after all.
To be honest, an appropriate comparison might be a show like King of the Hill or even Louie. It’s a comedy, but sometimes it’s about that daily grind more than trying to make you bust a nut laughing.
Portlandia (2011 – present)
Speaking of weird and quirky, there’s a show on IFC that takes Portland, Oregon and really brings out the city’s, um, unique qualities. Fred Armisen and Carrie Brownstein star in what basically amounts to sketches, although some episodes do carry an actual arc.
Look, this is definitely a polarizing show that ventures dangerously close to hipster territory. I’m a huge weirdo, so obviously I’m a fan, although that’s not an excuse for you to skip this secretly awesome spectacle.
At the very least, check out the show’s opening credits which features “Feel It All Around” by Washed Out.
Real Husbands of Hollywood (2013 – present)
Yes, I said it. Real Husbands of Hollywood is a seriously underrated reality TV spoof starring Kevin Hart, Nick Cannon, Nelly, and other BET-appropriate celebrities. The best part about this show is probably the benefit of experiencing Kevin Hart’s frantic energy in short doses, as opposed to a full feature film.
I hate reality TV just as much as the next person, which is why this spoof is so funny. They absolutely nail it and a continuous feed of celebrity cameos makes it that much more awesome.
The Americans (2013 – present)
I swear this isn’t hyperbole: The Americans, as of the first three seasons, is a show with just as much depth and character as the first three seasons of The Sopranos and Breaking Bad. I mean it completely and I think FX has something truly special here.
Just like Brooklyn Nine-Nine, The Americans seems like a show that’s just there to take up space and time. Call it an error in marketing or blame the general public for being so focused on shows with less substance like American Horror Story, but it’s a damn shame that this intriguing and thrilling drama about Soviet spies living in America has gone unnoticed for so long.
It might end up receiving belated accolades like The Wire (which I haven’t seen yet, but will eventually).
The real meat of the show comes not from the action, but from the relationship between Elizabeth (Keri Russell) and Philip (Matthew Rhys), who are highly trained Soviet spies pretending to be Americans. They not only need to hide their true intentions from the Americans, but from their own two kids as well.
That’s why I love the comparison with The Sopranos. They are both about people doing illegal things, but there’s an incredibly strong focus on family dynamics as well. The angst between the couple/partners is often tangible, as they try to come to terms with their initially artificial relationship, their training, and their actions in enemy territory.
Perhaps the most important distinction is the humanization provided by The Americans. It gives us the other side of the story and shows us the Soviets were people too; they were just as passionate about their cause as the Americans felt about their own cause.
While neither side was perfect, I think we have to admit the US did some pretty unseemly things during the Cold War, such as orchestrating coups d’état against democratically elected governments in Central/South America – perfect material for The Americans.
To sum it up: great acting, great directing, an unflinching resolve to show some disturbing things because those things definitely happened to real people at some point in history, and a commitment to a huge number of wigs. What a show.