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15 TV Shows You Should be Watching (that you’re not)

tv-youre-not-watching

It is not a secret that TV is in a golden age. As films move toward more episodic adventures where the stakes are low and only seem there to set up further installments (ahem, Marvel) movies are beginning to look like very expensive TV show episodes that take 3 years to produce. So, as the style of storytelling changes on the big screen, so has the small screen. TV shows, mini-series, and event films have begun to steal away a lot of the prestige, daring, and original stories that used to exist only in the cinemaplex. So here, we will look at 15 shows that’ll save you that $20 movie ticket and give you a better conversation for the water cooler the next day.

Mr. Robot – USA (2 seasons)

Imagine Fight Club the TV series. And now imagine what happens after the end of Fight Club. They’ve taken down the economic infrastructure of the world… now what? That is what Season 2 of the expectation-inverting Mr. Robot is all about. Substitute the satirical macho testosterone of Fight Club-David-Fincher with the more slow burn thriller Zodiac-David-Fincher telling the same story and you have Mr. Robot. The show oozes anxiety and rides upon the capable shoulders of breakout star’s Rami Malek’s nervy charisma, and it manages to be great despite show-cancer Christian Slater‘s presence. Nothing is ever as it seems as the show takes you further down the seedy rabbit hole of hacking, capitalism, and the elasticity of reality.

Streaming through USA Now, Amazon Prime

The Knick – Cinemax (2 seasons)

From recently retired/unretired/never-really-retired Steven Soderbergh who directed every episode of the 2 seasons of The Knick which plays out like a 20 hour movie ready-made for binging. The Knick follows Clive Owen (brilliant) as a heroin addicted doctor in early 1900s New York. Owen’s Thatcher is renowned as a brilliant man on the cutting edge of medicine–who is also hopelessly addicted to heroin. And remember what medicine looked like 100 years ago… endlessly thrilling, relevant in the way it handles race relations, and consistently surprising The Knick continues the TV tradition of blurring the line between the big and small screens.

Unavailable to stream (HBO Go had season 1 for a limited time, here’s to hoping they get season 2). Purchase through Amazon Prime or iTunes

Hannibal – (3 seasons/cancelled)

The great tragedy of this list is Hannibal. Unceremoniously cancelled despite being the best show on television, Hannibal could never secure the ratings to justify keeping it around. Even more tragically, no streaming services chose to revive it despite internet fervor. Hannibal is a prequel/sidequel series to the Silence of the Lambs mythology that is roundly better than any of the previous film installments. Using disturbing imagery, symbolism, and dark subject matter to create some beautiful, dark art. The show’s sumptuous presentation of food is only topped by its artistic rendering of murder and death. The show focuses on the central relationship between Will Graham (detective from Red Dragon/Manhunter) played twitchy and unbalanced by Hugh Dancy and the titular Hannibal Lector. Hannibal is played with subtle nuance, coy manipulation, and terrifying suggestion by Mads Mikkelson who blows Anthony Hopkins’ hammy performance right out of the water. Transitioning away from a killer of the week in season one to a more complicated narrative of love, obsession, and death as the series twists the known mythology. Cancelled prematurely as creator Bryan Fuller was hinting at getting the rights to turn the Silence of the Lambs into the fourth season.

Streaming through Amazon Prime

Jonathan Strange & Mr. Norrell – BBC (miniseries)

Do you have a British magic-sized hole where your heart used to be now that Harry Potter is done (forget about Fantastic Beasts)? Then Jonathan Strange & Mr. Norrell is the show for you. Based on the highly acclaimed and award-winning book by Susanna Clarke it takes place in a Victorian England that is now devoid of magic, though it once was filled with fairies and magicians. Magic is studied by theoretical magicians who look at the history, but magic itself is considered low and only to be practiced by street hustlers. But now, there are two magicians: a stodgy old magician (Mr. Norrell)who has kept his nose buried in the books of old, and Jonathan Strange, a young nobleman whose magical abilities come naturally. The story plays out very much like a magical Amadeus; with an older man envious of the younger’s talents. Winningly acted with just the right amount of charm and sparing, but effective, use of effects makes it a delight to watch this meticulously crafted world come to life.

Streaming through Netflix

Rick and Morty – Adult Swim (2 seasons)

Get schwifty with the funniest and smartest animated show on television. Community creator Dan Harmon co-creates the zany world of Rick and Morty which is basically a bizarro version of the relationship of Marty McFly and Doc Brown of Back to the Future. Rick is a boozy scientist who is less mad and more couldn’t give a shit. Morty is his dim-witted grandson who he takes on adventures. From there the show delights in parallel universes and realities, the nature of reality, paradox, and the truly alien world around us, as well as domestic problems back home. Beware: this cartoon is only for adults. Witty, hilarious, and surprising in its occasional pathos, you’ll be yelling, “rubba dub dub” by the end of it.

Streaming through Hulu and adultswim.com

Orphan Black – BBC (4 seasons)

Hard sci-fi at its very finest following clones, secret labs, and conspiracies. Orphan Black succeeds in large part due to the whirlwind performance by Tatiana Maslany as she plays Sarah, a street-wise young woman who grew up in foster care with her brother. After she sees a woman who looks just like her commit suicide, she unwittingly plunges into forces beyond her comprehension. Maslany also plays every cloned version of the character with distinctive and subtle difference. The show is edge-of-your-seat suspenseful and relies on smart writing and well-placed humor and character moments to balance out the tension. With BBC wrapping up OB with season 5, now is the time to catch up.

Streaming through Amazon Prime

The Path – Hulu (1 season)

Hulu’s first great original series (and from a female creator!) follows a modern-day cult–or a movement as they preferred to be called. The movement began as a few stoners in the 70s and has grown out in force and scale (the similarities to Scientology are apparent) with a national outreach and lots of money to go along with hokey sounding beliefs and prophecies. The central focus of the show is one family at the center of the Meyerist movement. The mother (Michelle Monaghan, finally getting a chance to shine) has been a devout Meyerist her entire life and is in the upper echelons of the movement. She is everything good about her faith. Her husband (Aaron Paul, solid) is a convert who was rescued from a life of drugs by the movement, but has begun having doubts. What makes the show fascinating is that Meyerism serves as a sort of placeholder or all religion, and the show takes the time to show the great good that the movement does, and also the nasty underbelly. The hook is–what if Meyerism is actually true?

Streaming through Hulu

Black Mirror – BBC/Netflix (2 seasons)

The dark side of technology is explored with Black Mirror in horrifying extrapolation. The show is an anthology where each episode takes an aspect of technology and looks ahead to see what could go wrong. Only 7 episodes so far, but 3 of those are stone-cold classics that will leave you reeling, but also, with something to think about. Episodes about the meaningless of everyday life and work, virtual reality versus reality, what-if we had devices that recorded everything we saw/heard?, could you replicate people with robots, and more…? Hayley Atwell also shows up to deliver a masterclass on acting in the debut of season 2 that will leave you wondering how she has not won an Oscar yet. Sci-fi is rarely this provocative or timely.

Streaming through Netflix

Peaky Blinders – BBC/Netflix (3 seasons)

Set shortly after WWI Peaky Blinders follows the real-life titular gang, led by the Shelbys that got their names for the razor blades that were sewn into the brims of their caps. Taking place in Birmingham, the Northern working class part of England that Londoners look down upon follows the up-and-coming gang that, over the seasons, rises in power and legitimacy in England. Anchored by the central performance of Cilian Murphy (all icy stares and composure amid chaos) as the head of the gang. Flanked by his two brothers (one immature and the other an unpredictable hothead) and supported by his wily aunt Polly the ensemble is very strong overall. Peaky does a great job of evoking the time period and place to create a unique tone. Every season is full of scheming, violence, and just enough plot machinations and convolutions that the endgames feel gratifying and fun to watch Tommy Shelby get himself out of a corner he’s been painted into.

Streaming through Netflix

Brooklyn 9-9 – Fox (4 seasons)

The funniest show on television. Hands down. The ensemble cast gels faster than any sitcom in history (the show is hysterical from the pilot) and that is saying something from the creator of Parks & Rec and The Office (USA). 9-9 takes place in the police precinct and follows a group of detectives, their sergeant, and their captain. Every single piece of the ensemble is hysterical. Terry Crews provides manic energy, Andre Braugher is a revelation as the stoic, openly gay captain, Melissa Fumero as the goody-two-shoes, Joe Truglio as the awkward, but loyal partner, Stephanie Beatriz as the hard-ass with a heart of gold, Chelsea Peretti filling the Tom Haverford role, and Andy Samberg toning down the Andy Samberg-ness and blending into an ensemble. Like P&R before it, the show manages to be laugh-a-minute while still fitting pathos into the affair. Extra points for being an incredibly diverse cast (2 black men in positions of power (1 gay), 2 strong Hispanic women, and inverting things with two token old white guys. You need to watch this show. It is reportedly on the bubble this year. This is unacceptable.

Streaming through Hulu

Young Doctor’s Notebook – BBC (2 seasons)

A bizarre black comedy starring Daniel Radcliffe and Jon Hamm. Radcliffe plays the young doctor who is given his first assignment in a small village in rural Russia in the early 1900s. He is miserable and hates it after being a top-flight medical student. He arrives in the shadow of the great town doctor Leopold Leopoldovich whose painted visage glares down in judgment. And when Radcliffe’s doctor gets addicted to heroin he is visited by the spectre of his future self in Jon Hamm. Yes, Radcliffe growing up to look like Jon Hamm is ridiculous. Hamm advises Radcliffe on what to do in situations, while reading from the notebook that he (Radcliffe) kept when he was younger, and has since changed his ways from being sober. The show uses absurdism and bursts of bloody violence to punctuate the mundane insanity of the small town. Between operating on horses, sleeping with the nurses, and not treating patients so that he can hog all the heroin for himself, you will be gasping as often as laughing.

Streaming through Netflix

Broadchurch – BBC (2 seasons)

British detective/mystery shows are a step above most of their American counterparts. Shows like Luther, Hinterlands, Wallander, Bletchley Circle, and more all resonate with a certain amount of class and distinction. Maybe it is because they don’t rely on guns for conflict? I may write an entire article about this genre, but my favorite of the bunch is Broadchurch. Taking place in a small town rocked by a missing child who turns out to be murdered. Everyone has skeletons in their closet (to the point it almost becomes Twin Peaks) and everyone looks guilty. Two detectives: a disgraced big-city detective (David Tennant, the best he’s ever been) who is blamed for never solving a previous child murder has been relegated to this quiet town when not long after this parallel situation crops up and tests his psyche, and the detective whose promotion he stole by joining the team is played by Olivia Colman as a woman born and bred in the town and can’t believe her big-city counterpart’s cynicism. The show does a great job of letting the effects of the tragedy breathe through the ensemble of characters who all look guilty from a certain perspective. The ending is devastating, and is undone by a letdown in season two. This was also (poorly) remade as Gracepoint for US audiences. Watch the original.

Streaming through Netflix

Spoils of Babylon – IFC (Anthology-2 seasons)

Will Ferrel is a big hit-or-miss for me. I love his oddball, strange humor efforts (and his more dramatic fare) and am not a fan of his broad, yelly stuff. This is the former. A sendup of the prestige event series of the 80s, Spoils of Babylon tells the overstuffed tale of love, family, oil money, conspiracies, underwater laboratories, love triangles, sex with mannequins, and drugs fuel the played straight satire. Will Ferrel plays a late-period Orson Welles type whose brilliant vision he directed based on his book is being displayed for the first time. He bookends each episode in a booze-fueled pea commercial rant about the artistic value and other pretentiousness. Obvious miniatures replace effects, bad acting, editing incontinuities, and overly-dramatic dialogue add up to a unique humor. This will either be hilarious or you will sit bored and confused.

Streaming through Netflix

Master of None – Netflix (1 season)

The dramedy. Not laugh out loud funny, but light enough not to be too serious. Creator/writer/director/star Aziz Ansari follows up his much acclaimed book on love with a series focusing on searching for love and inherent racism within the world and entertainment. The show cruises with sort of a 70s vibe of character and situation, though it takes place in present day. We see how Indian actors play stereotypes, the difficulties of staying in love, and being a young adult in today’s world. The show does a great job of walking the fine line that dramedy exists on, and mostly succeeds. The sharp insights, good laughs, and likable characters go a long way.

Danger 5 – Australian TV/Netflix (2 seasons)

This comedy will prove even more divisive than Spoils of Babylon above. Danger 5 is a sendup of 70s espionage/spy shows like Charlie’s Angels and The Saint. Only this time they are a group of special agents with only one job: Kill Hitler. Using hilarious bad effects, evoking time and place through constant smoking and drinking, and a period-appropriate amount of sexual implication is paramount in establishing what Danger 5 is. Whether they are fighting Nazi dinosaurs, finding the stolen Eiffel tower, or trying to kill Hitler Danger 5 keeps things strange. Bad guys wear animal heads for no real reason. Fake product-placement litters the show. The strangeness transcends itself into becoming this surreal, absurd, and farcical masterpiece that must be seen to be believed.

Streaming through Netflix

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Posted on September 22, 2016, in TV and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 12 Comments.

  1. Brooklyn Nine-Nine co-stars Andre Braugher and Chelsea Peretti. Those names should be corrected up there.

    I faithfully watch it every week, as I did Hannibal, before those bastards at NBC cut it from their schedule. I also never miss Mr. Robot, which is crazy good. I’ve seen The Spoils of Babylon and it made me giggle like a kid throughout. master of None is pretty damn good. I’m looking forward to season 2. I’m not as keen on the British stuff as you are, but I occasionally watch some, like Luther and Sherlock. I was also a Downton Abbey devotee. I have seen the first episode of Black Mirror and need to get back to it. I’ve been meaning to check out Orphan Black because I’ve been told I’d love it.

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  2. There are some terrific recommendations here. Great list. I have seen some of these shows. I have heard good things about a lot of the others.

    Recently, I streamed the first season or Mr. Robot. Made for great binge watching. I’m looking forward to catching up with season 2 once it’s available.

    Hannibal, I sampled during season one. It was good for what it was, but the killer-of-the-week format just wasn’t for me. I heard season two was very good, but never went back.

    Orphan Black and Black Mirror are both shows I thought about watching. I can’t remember if I actually sampled them or not, but I definitely circled them.

    I watched an episode or two of Brooklyn 9-9 and liked what I saw. I just don’t watch a lot of sitcoms. Or Fox for that matter.

    I watched the first season of Spoils of Babylon and enjoyed it. Unfortunately, I missed the second season. If it’s still on Nextflix when I renew my subscription some time down the road, I will give it a look.

    Danger 5, I checked out, and it sure was weird. If I had been in the right mood, it might have clicked with me. I get the impression some mood alteration may be required to fully enjoy it. I do agree it must be seen to be believed.

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    • Season 2 of Hannibal drops the killer of the week format basically altogether by the end. And S3 turns into something even stranger.

      Spoils Before Dying was somehow technically better, but then not as good as SoB. Maybe it was the Val Kilmer factor…

      My wife likes sitcoms more than I do. So, I have to look hard for those I approve of. So far: Community, B99, Parks & rec, and Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt.

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      • Wife? Last we spoke I believe it was girlfriend. Are congratulations in order? If so, belated congrats.

        I like Community, but never got on board fully. I was a late comer on Parks and Rec. I enjoyed the first season of Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt which isn’t surprising since I was a big fan of 30 Rock. My wife and I both like Modern Family and Last Man on Earth (not to be confused with Last Man Standing). I’d rather drive a spike through my head than watch The Big Bang Theory or Two Broke Girls. I do enjoy some basic cable sitcoms like Louie, Maron and You’re the Worst.

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      • Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt is so much fun.

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  3. How appropriate that this article extolling the virtues of Orphan Black (among others) should appear on the day that Tatiana Maslany is one of the headliners of the birthday article. 🙂

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  4. I viewed many episodes of ” Brooklyn Nine-Nine” (I’ll stop just short of calling myself a devotee), and I really like it, which says a lot because I’m not all that big on half-hour shows that aren’t animated.
    I’ve been waiting for Michelle Monaghan to break out since I first saw her in “Kiss Kiss Bang Bang” (I thought “Source Code” would really be IT for her). I got a Diane lane-type screen vibe from her that I liked.

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  5. Great article! I honestly watch a lot more television now than I do movies because I do think it’s a lot easier to find good shows than good films right now.

    I am so happy to finally find someone else who has watched A Young Doctor’s Notebook! I feel like it was tailor-made for me! (I love black comedies, Jon Hamm, Russian history, and Mikhail Bulgakov, the author whose book the show is loosely-based on.) It’s one of the more hilarious comedies I’ve watched, and it also has a lot of surprising depth, buried under all the awkward humor and amputation. 🙂

    I’ve been meaning to watch several of these shows, including Broadchurch, Peaky Blinders, Black Mirror, The Knick, and Orphan Black, and this list definitely makes me want to start them. I’ve never heard of The Path, but it sounds like something I’d enjoy.

    I would add Fortitude to this list. I’ve noticed people either love it or hate it, but I was definitely in the first camp. It’s the only show besides A Young Doctor’s Notebook that seemed tailor-made for me. (Atmospheric Scandinavian murder mystery + eerie Arctic setting + Richard Dormer). It has a great cast overall and isn’t afraid to slowly unwind and take some truly unexpected detours. I am eagerly and impatiently awaiting the next season, which comes out in January.

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  6. I recommend Netflix’s ‘Lady Dynamite’, a collaboration between Arrested Development’s Mitchell Hurwitz, South Park’s Pam Brady, and bipolar alt comic Maria Bamford.

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