The internet has changed the way we watch TV. Netflix has given us the gift of television without the burden of advertisements. Hundreds of programs are available day and night to keep us binging until the end of time. It’s also given us a way to watch series we may never have ordinarily found. Many shows behind network paywalls or created in other countries show up every day just looking for their cult audience.
Here are 10 Underrated Shows Streaming On Netflix that will have you riveted to your screen until the final minute of the final episode.
Red Road (2014 – )
To a certain kind of viewer, SundanceTV’s Red Road is the best show on television. If you like your obsessions to possess the lived-in, culturally specific detail of The Sopranos, The Wire’s nuts and bolts look at criminal life and more of Game of Thrones’ Jason Momoa than you know what to do with, then it’s time to hop aboard the Red Road bandwagon.
Momoa, doing the best work of his career, plays a small time drug dealer on a Native American reservation, who enters into a Faustian bargain with a local cop (Martin Henderson) after witnessing a crime. Spearheading a movement towards realistic crime shows (Rectify and Bloodline are other stellar examples), Red Road is a brilliant piece of work, a portrait of a believable community that balances incredible tension with a realistic depiction of this community and the people in it.
There’s nothing quite as engrossing or powerful on Netflix or American television at the moment.
Ripper Street (2012 – )
The lead actors of BBC’s Ripper Street Matthew MacFadyen and Jerome Flynn were coaxed from their work in historical romances and HBO’s Game of Thrones to star in Ripper Street, but they don’t far from the tone of either.
The style suggests a serialization of the Robert Downey, Jr. Sherlock Holmes movies, with hyperactive editing that renders the detecting prowess of its sleuthing heroes. Fans of the BBC’s usual stock in trade, highbrow soap operas like Downton Abbey, are also catered to by the show’s focus on its detective’s personal lives.
All this is to say that Ripper Street is riveting from the get-go, a sharply paced weekly mystery with top-notch performances, delectably intricate writing, and incredibly satisfying delivery of all its disparate elements.
Hit & Miss (2012)
Chloë Sevigny has made a career out of fearlessly treading where few actresses would ever dare. She proved that beyond a shadow of a doubt when she signed on for Sky Atlantic’s Hit & Miss, created by Shameless’s Paul Abbott.
Sevigny stars as a pre-op transgender assassin who is put in charge of three orphaned children. Given that premise, you won’t be shocked to hear that Abbott condensed a few different show ideas into one, but the plot overkill actually works in the show’s favor.
For one excellent season Hit & Miss was the most fascinating thing on TV, making the most of a host of great performances and a beautiful, moody Yorkshire setting.
Salem (2014 – )
Sure, the idea that there were actually witches in Salem is baldly ahistorical and more than a little tasteless, but aren’t those virtues you want from your late night binge-watching?
Feeling very much like the product of a meeting where the bosses at WGN asked for their own American Horror Story, Salem is even more ribald and fun than its better-known precedent. Mary Sibley (Janet Montgomery) is the most important woman and the most powerful witch in 17th Century Salem, Massachusetts. When witchhunters come to town, she must outmaneuver them while appearing to be an innocent, upstanding citizen.
Brazenly grotesque gore and deliciously crazy performances set Salem apart from even the craziest horror TV. By the time the flawless Lucy Lawless shows up in Season 2, it’s too late to stop watching. You’ll be unable to look away, and after you settle into this insane version of Salem, you won’t want to.
The Birthday Boys (2013 – 2014)
Good sketch comedy with a concrete identity doesn’t fall out of the sky every day. So when IFC cancelled its finest exemple of the form, fans of Mr. Show, Kids In The Hall, and The State poured one out for The Birthday Boys.
Produced by stalwart comedian/actor Bob Odenkirk (of Better Call Saul and Mr. Show fame), the seven-man sketch troupe took incredibly specific ideas about life as produced in pop culture and twisted them just enough to make viewers realize how much of western civilization comes perilously close to nonsensical anarchy. That’s a slightly pretentious summation, but there’s real depth beneath even the silliest sketches. Take the bit about an office party that breaks out when they realize that, after running the numbers, there’s no after-life and thus all their work is meaningless. The sudden appearance of margaritas and streamers is funny, but the repeated explanation of the stoppage gets more surreal and hilarious every time.
We need bold comedy in America, and for a brief, shining moment The Birthday Boys carried that torch beautifully.
Between (2015 – )
It’s The Leftovers meets Degrassi in this Canadian take on doomsday.
In this update of Logan’s Run, the town of Pretty Lake is quarantined after a mysterious illness kills everyone over the age of 21. The class valedictorian (Jesse Carere) looks for answers while his pregnant girlfriend (Jennette McCurdy) deals with her angst in less constructive ways. A handful of the survivors attempt to maintain law and order but the kids can’t really be left unsupervised without things going Lord of the Flies.
Many of this show’s points have been made a little more intelligently in the past, but some rough dialogue is smoothed over by sensitive direction and agreeably subtle work from its cast. If you want an honest look at the impulses governing the decisions the average teenager makes, the quietly effecting Between has its heart in the right place.
Z Nation (2014 – )
When The Asylum (purveyors of such fine knock-offs as Sunday School Musical, The Day The Earth Stopped, and Atlantic Rim) announced they’d be producing their own zombie series to compete with The Walking Dead, no one had any reason to believe it would be anything other than a waste of time.
Z Nation may not be an unqualified success, but it’s got enough heart and soul to make for some unexpectedly compulsive viewing. Following a ragtag group of violent rejects across a post-zombie apocalypse USA, the show mixes The Asylum’s usual off-color humor with producer/director John Hyams’ unsparing treatment of violence and lands in a fascinatingly singular middle ground.
For the 8 or 9 people who wanted Firefly to edge further into hillbilly territory, they might find their new obsession in this charmingly oddball zombie show.
Luther (2010 – )
As one of the most electrifying and unique screen actors in the world, Idris Elba still isn’t quite as famous as he should be. He proved his bonafides as detective John Luther on the BBC detective show Luther from 2010-2013 (with a new special to air in the near future).
Elba plays a cop with a Hulk-sized anger problem who’s a fan of letting situations get out of hand and dealing with the fallout later. It’s dodgy police work, but it’s riveting TV. There’s a brute grace to everything Elba’s Luther does, and wondering how close to the edge of control he’ll walk will keep you glued to your chair.
The Fall (2013 – )
To many people, Gillian Anderson will always be Dana Scully, the icy but warm-hearted paranormal investigator who taught us how to believe in aliens week after week in The X-Files.
Stella Gibson, the protagonist of The Fall, is sort of like Scully after a few too many years solving paranormal crimes. She’s the heroine of the superior British/Irish series The Fall about the team assigned to track a brutal serial killer (Jamie Dornan, who toned down the sadism of this series to be the bland sex addict heartthrob in 50 Shades of Grey). Anderson’s cool, unflappable detective Gibson is The Fall’s fascinating center and its anchor, keeping us focused on the human details of the awful crimes gluing the many characters together.
The Fall is a bleak puzzle, but it’s fantastically well-made and seeing the pieces fall into place is endlessly satisfying, in the best kind of sickly voyeuristic way.
Being Human (2008 – 2013)
Imagine a Universal monster movie, but written by someone obsessed with 2000s brit pop, and you’ll end up somewhere near the feelings evoked by Being Human.
Spooky theatrics vanish, replaced with mood and angst as a werewolf (Russell Tovey), a ghost (Lenora Crichlow) and a vampire (Aiden Turner) experience the ups and downs of trying to live like normal folks. Naturally, that’s harder than it seems. The cast changed over the course of its five seasons, but the show’s commitment to understanding the dynamics of friendship and community never wavered. Life in England looks most outlandish through the lens of the thoroughly abnormal.
Of course we’ve only scratched the surface of what wonders are waiting for us in Netflix’s many corridors. What TV shows do you love that might find an appreciative second audience on Netflix? What are your favorite Netflix originals? Let us know in the comments!
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