We’re living in a goddamn Golden Age of television. But there’s also way too much TV to keep track of, and a few shows get the lion’s share of attention. So here’s our list of 16 recent TV shows that haven’t gotten their props. Time to start binge-watching!
First, let’s define our terms. These are “unsung” TV shows, in that they haven’t gotten loads of attention in mainstream media outlets. (So no Game of Thrones, or even Supergirl, for that matter.) And by the “past few years,” I mean shows that were airing in 2013 or later, or are still on the air now. OK? Here we go.
A cop travels back in time from 2077 to 2012 and has to fight a bunch of terrorists from the future. This show dealt with all sorts of fascinating issues around the corporatization of police, and corporate control over society generally — and at its best, it was a show where nobody was “right” or “wrong.” (At its worst, this show got lost in its own overcomplicated mythos. But it’s still worth checking out.)
A young woman becomes a zombie — and every time she eats someone’s brain she gains their personality attributes, memories and abilities. And she uses this ability to solve crimes. It’s a zombie police procedural! This show, based on a Vertigo comic, comes from the creator of Veronica Mars, and it’s just as good as it sounds.
John Constantine is the world’s most profane sorcerer, who performs dark magic in a trench coat and holding a cigarette butt. This show absolutely nailed one of comics’ most fascinating characters. (He hails from the Hellblazer comic.) And even if the single season had a hard time finding its feet, Matt Ryan is note perfect, and it’s great for that reason alone.
4) Person of Interest
This show started out as a police procedural about two guys who know about crimes before they actually happen, thanks to a supercomputer. The first season is a little slow (but still awesome), and then the supercomputer starts to take center stage more. By now, it’s evolved into the smartest examination of artificial intelligence we’ve ever seen on television, and a superb show generally. Now on Netflix! Here’s our guide to which episodes from the first season to skip.
5) The Librarians
Noah Wyle used to star in these TV movies about the Librarian, a guy who works in a mysterious facility hunting down magical items. Now this has been rebooted into an ongoing series about a team of Librarians, and it’s basically the perfect replacement for Warehouse 13. The writers include John “Leverage” Rogers, so the scripts are often funny, whip-sharp, and deep without going dark.
6) Agent Carter
Marvel’s Agents of SHIELD got all the attention when it launched because it came right on the heels of The Avengers. But this other ABC superhero show is just as brilliant, and hasn’t gotten as many props. It’s the late 1940s, and Peggy Carter is back from the war — but there’s still plenty of evil to fight. If only she can get these boneheaded men to start taking her seriously. This show just keeps getting better and better.
This British TV show is so under-the-radar, it doesn’t even seem to have aired stateside. But it’s dark and sardonic and ultra-weird. In a near future setting, a group of characters meet on a message board to discuss a fictional comic about a scientist who makes a deal with the devil… and over the course of this series, we delve into a deep, incredibly weird, conspiracy. We described it as Ben Templesmith meets Dennis Potter meets William Gibson.
It’s only just started, but this show about the Prince of Darkness hanging out in L.A. is already one of our favourites. We were incredibly sceptical about taking Mike Carey’s trippy, epic comic and turning it into a crime-of-the-week show, but thus far this show deserves way more props.
9) 12 Monkeys
Speaking of things we were incredibly sceptical about… Syfy took the classic Terry Gilliam show about a guy who travels back from a post-apocalyptic future to investigate the origins of a deadly plague, and turned it into an ongoing weekly TV show. This should not have worked. At all. But thus far, this show is intensely watchable and dark, including genuine surprises here and there. Fingers crossed for season two!
10) The 100
The CW launched a handful of teen science fiction shows around the same time, and they all looked vaguely Hunger Games-influenced. But this show, after a rocky start, became one of the best things on broadcast television. The survivors of a post-apocalyptic Earth, living on a cramped space station, send 100 teenagers back to the planet’s surface to see if it’s habitable again. Over time, this show has evolved into something genuinely fascinating.
11) Wayward Pines
A federal agent wakes up in a weird town, where there are tons of secrets and nobody seems to know what’s going on. This show, based on the books by Blake Crouch, seemed like a weak Twin Peaks clone at first blush. But the mystery actually has a killer answer, and standout performances by Matt Dillon and Carla Gugino ended up blowing us away.
12) Jonathan Strange & Mr. Norrell
The classic award-winning novel by Susanna Clarke, about two men who dabble in magic in an alternate 19th century, should have been impossible to adapt for the screen. But the BBC absolutely pulled it off, with incredible panache, and everybody should watch this miniseries. It is a total triumph.
Before Lucifer was hanging out in L.A. solving crimes, Vlad Dracula was wandering around London trying to invent wireless electricity and watching women mud-wrestle. This show only ran for one season, but it is a pure delight of endless WTFery. Every episode packs at least a few “did I just see that” moments.
14) The Originals
The Vampire Diaries created one truly great villain: Klaus, the thousand-year-old Original vampire who’s kind of a megalomaniac. Spinning him and his siblings off into their own show seemed like a terrible idea, and the first season was kind of uneven. But at this point, Klaus’ theatrical insanity has become mesmerising, and watching this super-powerful vamp try to control the uncontrollable New Orleans is actually quite addictive.
15) Gravity Falls
We still can’t believe this show is ending next week. A pair of twins are forced to go live in the mysterious town of Gravity Falls with their Grunkle Stan, and have to help run the Mystery Shack, a horrendous tourist location. Even as shows like Steven Universe have blown up and become huge, this show has deserved way more attention than it’s gotten.
The Swedish show Äkta Människor has been one of the best kept secrets in cyberpunk for a few years now. But now this series about beautiful androids who live among regular people has been remade as a US-UK coproduction, and they managed to capture a lot of what made the original so thought-provoking and thrilling.
Thanks to Rob, Cheryl, James, Germain, Andrew and everyone else who helped with this!
Charlie Jane Anders is