There are plenty of shows where the audience’s response and interpretation is on point. Viewers tend to be pretty smart. They understand what they’re watching, and are able to articulate the reason they feel the way they do about it. There are some cases, though, where the fans don’t have it quite right. They misinterpret what a show is about, and come to opinions that seem to be entirely separate from the points that the shows are trying to make.
In these cases, for whatever reason, audiences missed the point. Sometimes this confusion is justified. After all, there are certain shows that seemed to be about one thing, but were actually about another. Other times, viewers just completely missed the boat. Often, the shows on this list were unfairly criticized or dismissed as something much simpler than what they actually turned out to be. Here are 15 TV Shows Where Audiences Missed The Point.
It’s certainly true that House is reliant on the procedural format to structure its episodes. Even so, it would be a mistake to reduce the series to this formula, which is actually deeply useful. House follows one cantankerous genius as he solves a variety of medical mysteries. As the show tackles its cases, though, it also ruminates on the doctors solving them, investigating their personal lives and provoking interesting conversations about a variety of ethical dilemmas.
At its best, House was a meditation on the philosophies that governed its central character, examining the various ways in which his work as a doctor defined him and kept him distant from those he loved. While the show may have veered off the rails in later years, House always knew how to handle its complicated central figure. Hugh Laurie did incredible work as Gregory House throughout the show’s eight seasons, proving that House himself could be both lovable and completely self-centered.
14. Mad Men
Don Draper lives a fabulous life. He’s an advertising executive who drinks all day and comes home to a beautiful family when his day is done. In short, Don has it all. Unfortunately, it’s not enough for him. Draper is harboring serious depression, as are many of the other characters who seem to be living perfect lives in the world of Mad Men. The brilliance of Mad Men is in its ability to force us to sympathize with people whose lives seem perfect, but are filled with complications and turmoil.
Throughout its seven seasons, Mad Men was always focused first on its characters, and while many audiences followed along with the ride, others were confused by the show’s pace and its style. While Mad Men initially seemed to relish the constant errors its characters made, eventually it made all of them into complex emotional people, and used a fair share of style and wit in the process. Mad Men is one of the best shows ever created, and that’s because it allowed its characters to be more than what they appeared to be on the surface.
13. The Young Pope
The Young Pope has one of the more absurd premises of any show ever made. Essentially, it boils down to “what if there was a pope, but he was young and beautiful?” As silly as that may sound — and as funny as the many memes that sprung out of it were — the series wound up being a beautifully filmed meditation on how people come to be who they are. The show takes a journey into the mind of its central character, and wonders how he came to be in this position of power.
In a sense, the show is a deconstruction of those who abuse power when they attain it, and suggests that these antiheroes aren’t born this way. Instead, they are created by an upbringing that taught them all the wrong lessons. The Young Pope goes out of its way to suggest that everything that’s wrong with the character in the present can be explained by his tragic childhood. While the show is careful not to excuse this misbehavior, it’s also careful to suggest that it’s important to understand why a person is the way they are, even if nothing can be changed.
12. The Originals
While it’d be easy to dismiss the show because of its roots in the universe of The Vampire Diaries, The Originals is interested in more than just vampires. The show follows Klaus, a vampire/werewolf hybrid who returns to his hometown of New Orleans to find it overrun by his protege. As the show develops, The Originals smartly ties themes of abuse into its storytelling.
Klaus and his siblings are fleeing their abusive father– who despises Klaus in particular, and the show makes this idea explicit frequently. The siblings’ parents are often terrible to their children, and have openly tried to kill them over the course of the show’s run. The Originals doesn’t just depict this abusive relationship, it also points toward the kind of lasting damage that it can cause, triggering cycles of abuse that are passed on from generation to generation. In the most recent season, Klaus must attempt to grapple with the darker impulses born of his abusive childhood, to keep them from affecting his young daughter. It’s startlingly realistic for a show that’s also about vampires, werewolves, and witches.
Ostensibly pitched as a show about nothing, Seinfeld ended up being a meditation on self-loathing. The characters at the show’s center are all pretty much the worst, and the series finale gives viewers a sense of just how many lives they’ve ruined over the course of their nine years on the air. As the episode ends with all four in jail, the viewers are forced to realize that many of the jokes that Seinfeld told over the course of its run were at the expense of real people.
The self-centered nature of the show’s central quartet meant that many of the show’s myriad of other characters were mere background noise, bit players in a comedy that wasn’t really about them. In the end, though, Seinfeld told one last joke. These bit players had lives of their own, and they were angry that our main cast had ruined them so thoroughly. Turns out Seinfeld was really all about karmic retribution. Who would’ve thought?
Ricky Gervais is most famous for his tendency to say truly outrageous things in order to get a few laughs. While that’s true of most of Gervais’s comedy, Derek is actually an exception from that norm. While it may seem like a conventional comedy, Derek is much more thoughtful and philosophical than most in its execution. This hairpin turn in tone threw off many fans who were prepared for a The Office-esque comedy.
Filmed in a mockumentary style, Derek follows a group of people on the fringes of society. At the center of it all is Gervais as Derek, a 40 year old man who works in a retirement home and is regularly ridiculed for his childishness and limited intelligence. Whereas Gervais’s awkward sense of humor is usually used to make the audience uncomfortable, Derek uses that same humor to give the audience an overwhelming feeling of sympathy for the central character. As a result, Derek becomes more thoughtful and profound than the average comedy.
9. Game of Thrones
Game of Thrones is a hit with audiences, it’s plain to see. The violence and sex that the show frequently depicts are often quite a bit of fun, and the fantasy story at its center is full of battles, twists, and political intrigue. These elements were more than enough to hook viewers around the world, and they’re what made the show the phenomenon that it is. Still, there’s more to the show than these elements.
While its violence is frequent, Game of Thrones often uses it to showcase the darkest aspects of humanity. The show is constantly cutting down its own heroic figures, suggesting that nobility and goodness have no place in a world that is chaotic and cruel. Game of Thrones gets many of its kicks by subverting the tropes of the fantasy genre, but in doing so it meditates on the evil inherent in mankind, and the obsessions that these people have with meaningless conflicts that may ultimately be their undoing.
Like the film that spawned it, Fargo works really well as a straightforward crime thriller about a strange subset of American life. The show’s two unrelated seasons weave tight stories filled with colorful characters, and both seasons culminate with insane levels of violence. Even as this violence provides audiences with thrills, Fargo is always careful to underline how horrifying it all is. The brilliance of the show comes from its ability to give us sympathy for two conflicting groups, and then to make us watch as the groups tear each another apart.
In the end, the stories Fargo tells are always about the struggle to be good in a world that isn’t always willing to play along. Sometimes the good guys suffer losses, but it’s important to remember that these losses aren’t the end. Fargo is a show that insists that good people need to keep fighting for what’s right, even when that proves easier said than done.
7. Breaking Bad
Breaking Bad may represent the epitome of the antihero genre. It’s a show about Walter White, a mild-mannered chemistry teacher who begins to cook meth with one of his former students after he receives a terminal cancer diagnosis. Over the course of the series, viewers are treated to watching this man slowly corrupt himself, and commit a series of crimes that are often thrilling and impressively convoluted.
The show’s brilliance comes from its careful plotting and intricate characters, but many viewers are so interested in watching Walter’s schemes that they forget that he’s not a good person. It may be exhilarating to watch him escape from impossible situations, but Breaking Bad also tricks the audience by forcing you to root for him at every turn.
The show is about his downfall, and while it’s certainly tragic, he also brought it on himself. Breaking Bad can be so thrilling from moment to moment that it’s fairly easy to forget its central figure is actually a villain.
6. Battlestar Galactica
Smart science fiction imbues its story with allegories that are relevant to the real world. Being set in far off places with futuristic technologies does not preclude these stories from having modern relevance and Battlestar Galactica is proof of that. While it would be easy to discard the show as simple sci-fi, Battlestar Galactica imbues its stories with ideas about democracy and faith that are as complex as any prestige drama.
The beauty of the show is the numerous ways that its stories can be interpreted. While it ostensibly follows the last of humanity as they flee from the cylons, Battlestar Galactica was also widely regarded as an allegory for the Bush administration, and as a story about the very real costs of faith. The show managed to anchor these complex metaphors in equally complicated characters.
5. The Leftovers
There are few shows on television as smart as The Leftovers , and there are also few with more unanswered questions. The show follows a surrogate family in the wake of the Departure, a worldwide event responsible for the disappearance into thin air of two percent of the world’s population. If you tuned in to The Leftovers to find out where these people went, you’re going to be sorely disappointed.
That doesn’t mean that the show has nothing to offer, though. In fact, the truth is quite the opposite. The show manages to touch on themes of grief and loss, and uses the cataclysmic event at its center to explore the way people deal with the impossibility of truly understanding their own lives. Because it contains fully formed characters with distinct personalities, and, especially in its second season, understands that loss and grief can be coupled with humor and wit, The Leftovers invests heavily in its characters and themes, and those two things pay out in spades.
4. Twin Peaks
There are tons of ways to watch Twin Peaks. It’s a murder mystery set in a small town, and it’s fairly compelling on this level. Of course, with David Lynch at the helm, looking at the show as a murder mystery is far from the only way to do it. Like much of what Lynch creates, the show follows a kind of dream logic that rarely coheres logically without considering elements of the supernatural.
It’d be easy to dismiss Twin Peaks as a conventional detective story, or even as something incredibly outlandish. The real genius of the show is in combining these elements, and creating a show that is able to straddle the line between all out dream-logic and a procedural crime thriller. Twin Peaks has such a well-defined mastery of its own tone that it’s hard to see the show’s choices as anything but intentional. In defying easy categorization, Twin Peaks creates a world that is completely its own, and roams there with confidence. To over-focus on the mystery of who killed Laura Palmer is to misunderstand this mysterious show.
3. Mr. Robot
On its surface, Mr. Robot is about a rebel hacker who’s willing to take down the world’s financial system to give people true freedom. In reality, though, the show is far too smart to contain a message that simple. Mr. Robot is really about toxic masculinity, and its central character is a meditation on the obsessions that plague the 21st century man.
Much like Fight Club, which the show draws heavily from, Mr. Robot is about the way men try to cope with the toxic demands of a patriarchal society through destruction. As the show unfolds, we learn more and more about the way Elliot, the hacker wunderkind at the show’s center, sees the world. His views are clearly toxic, but it’s easy for the audience to be drawn into them. The smartest thing Mr. Robot does, though, is clearly present us with a central character who is unreliable and mentally unstable. We are given his viewpoint, but it’s not clear that the show agrees with it. Elliot is probably wrong, but importantly, he’s wounded – and that’s why Mr. Robot is so great.
2. Buffy the Vampire Slayer
It’s often been pointed out that Buffy the Vampire Slayer was almost daring viewers to watch it. The show’s name suggested such a ridiculous premise that it’s hard to believe that the show behind it could be anything but a campy mess. While it’s true that Buffy relishes its B-movie aesthetic, that’s far from the only thing that the show has to offer.
In fact, part of Buffy’s appeal was its ability to seamlessly combine a variety of genre elements, including comedy and drama, in order to create a completely unique experience for viewers. The show’s many characters were complex and emotional, but they were also full of quips and puns. These elements didn’t contradict one another. Instead, they enhanced the experience for viewers, and transformed Buffy the Vampire Slayer into one of the most influential shows of all time. It’s certainly got a lot more going for it than just camp.
Lost is the ultimate example of a show that was misunderstood by its audience. The show, which followed a group of plane crash survivors who were trapped on a mysterious island, got viewers hooked very quickly by foregrounding the many strange occurrences on the island. Ultimately, the show couldn’t pay off on its many mysteries, but that doesn’t mean it didn’t turn out to be a deeply meaningful experience.
In the end, Lost was much more about the connections we make than it was about trying to unpack the world we live in. The show seemed to suggest that every life comes equipped with mysteries, but what matters is how we deal with them. Lost used its outlandish premise to hook viewers, but what kept them coming back were the incredibly well-drawn dynamics between the characters. These characters are as vivid and real as any that have ever populated the screen. The relationships they formed over the course of Lost’s six seasons make watching the show deeply satisfying, even if it didn’t answer every question.
What other TV shows do you feel are misunderstand? Share in the comments!