There are a lot of shows out there that don’t get enough credit for their intelligence. Living in a world where a show is viewed as either dumb or smart, many writers try to appeal to both ends of spectrum. Just because a show has a silly premise, a dimwitted lead character, or a ridiculous setting doesn’t mean it’s not smart. In fact, not having an intelligent, worldly point of view might just end up being the cause of a show's cancellation. You can’t have a television show with no substance to it. Television doesn’t work that way, and show creators know it.
Any show can have intelligence. Cartoons, comedies, and even reality shows can all be extremely smart. There are a lot of shows out there that are unjustly classified as dumb. A show can be smart on so many different levels, that its cleverness can seemingly go unnoticed.
As more and more well-written shows are being produced, it’s becoming incredibly important for a show to have more and more intricate aspects. Whether old or new, there are a lot of “dumb” shows out there that are actually pretty smart.
Here are 15 "Dumb" TV Shows That Are Smarter Than You Realized.
15 South Park
South Park seems like a show that’s all about the lowest levels of humor, but there’s a lot more to it than that. The show follows a group of young elementary school boys in South Park, Colorado, as they deal with both societal and political issues. While it may seem like there are one too many immature jokes for this to be considered an intelligent show, think again.
South Park is all about relatable experiences, and it never fails to end on a reflective note about how society should be better. It’s been on air for almost twenty years, so it's obviously doing something right. Nothing is off limits for creators Trey Parker and Matt Stone, not even when it comes to calling out their own nonsense. Many people would go as far as to say that South Park is in fact one of the most intelligent shows. So, open your mind and give it a chance before you judge it.
14 It's Always Sunny in Philadelphia
It's Always Sunny in Philadelphia is one of those shows that hides its intelligence behind easy jokes. When you scratch the surface of it, though, you can see that the series is intelligent through its blatant honesty. Focused on the gang that runs Paddy's Pub, It's Always Sunny demonstrates that you can be both ridiculous and real all at the same time.
While it may seem simple, the show provides an outlook on what happens when arrogant individuals have to deal with real life circumstances. It’s the psychology behind the show that makes it more intelligent than its superficial appearance. The gang gets up to some pretty questionable things that would in no way be acceptable in real life, but that’s what It's Always Sunny is there for. It shows the audience the realness of an exaggerated experience.
13 Parks and Recreation
Parks and Recreation can sometimes come off as way too silly to be considered an intelligent show. Amy Poehler's Leslie Knope runs the Parks and Recreation Department in Pawnee, Indiana. She comes off as a bit of a prude, spending all of her time working to keep her mundane town afloat, though no one in the show ever seems to appreciate her efforts. While the premise may seem simple, Parks and Rec is way more than just your run-of-the-mill show.
It shows how cruel and unjust the political system can be, especially towards women. It focuses on determination, not giving up, and being the best that you can be. The show demonstrates how the seemingly unchangeable can actually be changed. Leslie manages to inspire viewers while diving into some pretty diverse situations.
Parks and Rec shows off the funny side of politics, as well as the hard-hitting and headstrong qualities needed to be a person of the people.
A teen drama based on the famous Archie comics with a murderous twist seems like a ridiculous concept. There was a large chance that the show could have failed, but it miraculously became a hit. Riverdale should be dumb, but it isn’t. It’s actually intriguing and thought-provoking. Rather than trying to play up to an audience that might have had some nostalgic ties to the comic book series, Riverdale chose to reach out to an entirely different demographic instead.
Riverdale has a pretty solid teen fanbase. While the mystery of Jason Blossom is the continuous focal point of the first season, there are other aspects which focus on teen life. These hit home for a lot of young viewers. From overbearing parents, to inappropriate desires, to simply feeling alone, Riverdale is intelligent in the fact that it doesn’t forget its actual purpose.
No, it’s not on the same intelligence level as other series, but Riverdale has found its place among witty teen fans.
11 The Office (U.S.)
Spending 15 minutes watching Michael Scott do his thing at Dunder Mifflin can make anyone uncomfortable. One of the least self-aware characters on television, Michael Scott, portrayed by Steve Carell, can make The Office seem basic, dumb, and silly. However, anyone who has seen the show can attest to its intelligence.
Reflecting on the millions of Americans working in ordinary offices, The Office balances empathy and realism. A show that feels like it’s about nothing always ends up being about something. The main aspect that reflects The Office’s intelligence is how the show portrays the efforts of Michael Scott.
His intentions are, for the most part, always kind. Unfortunately, Michael goes through a lot of missteps, from acting insultingly racist to being downright demeaning towards women. Yet, audiences still love him. This is mostly due to the intelligent writing, which uses intense emotion to show us that life is extremely complex.
10 Drunk History
Drunk History is one of the best concepts on television right now. Take someone, get them really drunk, and then have them retell a story about something that happened in history. What could be better? Let’s be real for a second: it’s hilarious watching drunk people try and tell a historical tale. You never know what’s going to happen or what they’re going to say.
The drunk aspect makes the show seem superficially dumb. To change that mindset, all you have to do is look at the second word in the title to remember that it’s actually extremely educational. You’ll learn more watching an episode of Drunk History than sitting through a boring history class. Drunk History makes learning about history fun, and that within itself is brilliant. Education and wine make a lot sense when you put the two together.
9 Jane the Virgin
The preview of Jane the Virgin made it look like one of the dumbest shows to have ever been created. It's premise follows a Catholic girl portrayed by Gina Rodriguez, who is accidentally artificially inseminated and… that's it. The show didn't seem to be offering up much in the way of interesting content. But, good news for viewers: it is actually about way more.
Jane the Virgin is considered to be an American telenovela and thus uses a lot of similar aspects from other traditional telenovelas. What viewers weren’t expecting out of this comedy/drama hybrid was a perspective on societal topics such as class relations, cultural explorations, and feminism. Jane the Virgin explores choices, focusing on why women should be able to make their own decisions. The show might seem perplexing and ridiculous, but it is a prime reminder to all viewers that you shouldn’t judge a show by its broad premise.
8 Shameless (U.S.)
Shameless has been critically acclaimed and praised by viewers everywhere. It’s one of Showtime’s biggest hits. The only problem is that some people still think it’s just a dumb show about an alcoholic stumbling into ridiculous situations. While the alcoholic part is true, Shameless is an extremely intelligent show. Its approach to substance abuse, mental illness, and gentrification is truly groundbreaking.
Shameless is extremely dark, and anyone going into it expecting a lighthearted and warm setting obviously hasn’t done their research. Shameless gives viewers an inside look at how life isn’t always perfect. In fact, life is pretty messy and this show proves that. It goes into the nitty-gritty aspects of a non-perfect life, putting a face to the people who are directly affected by the issues you hear about all the time on the news.
Girlboss has received some pretty harsh backlash, specifically when it comes to the character of Sophia, who is based on real life Nasty Gal founder Sophia Amoruso. A lot of people think it’s just about a whiny girl who complains a lot. While they aren’t wrong, Sophia still has a lot of charm. The writing is also incredibly witty.
The characters talk so fast and converse so easily that a lot of Girlboss's intelligence can go unnoticed. It’s also difficult to realize how smart the dialogue actually is, because the show is based on what was going on in 2006. It’s a year too close to present day to be nostalgic, but too far away for viewers to easily remember all of the references.
The way the show demonstrates a new form of entrepreneurship in a world where the internet is still evolving is absolutely genius, so don’t be phased by the quirky humor.
6 Naked and Afraid
Discovery’s Naked and Afraid appears to be such a strange and ridiculous show, that most people would never associate it with intelligence. It isn’t about naked people just hanging out, regardless of the title. Instead, Naked and Afraid demonstrates the importance of survival skills. It also makes individuals work together.
The show gathers one man and one woman together and inserts them into an isolated and dangerous area. The social aspect is where the intelligence comes in. Naked and Afraid shows what actually matters in dire situations. A man who is completely arrogant in his skills and tries to act all macho won’t get anywhere on this show. However, someone who is patient and takes the time to understand their partner will do well. Naked and Afraid continuously demonstrates the importance of successful social skills.
5 Fresh Off The Boat
Eddie Huang is an eccentric chef who has become quite popular in the food industry. Fresh Off the Boat was originally going to be based on Huang's childhood, but has since gone on to encompass so much more. While Fresh Off the Boat might seem like it’s just about an immigrant family living in the nineties, the show deals with a lot of issues unseen before on television.
From Asian stereotypes to living in an area where people think you don’t belong, Fresh Off the Boat defies what people think they know about Asian immigrant families. There’s a difference between being Asian in Asia and Asian in America, and that’s exactly what Fresh Off the Boat is all about.
There’s a lot of responsibility when it comes to representing a marginalized family on television, but the writers know how to handle the pressure well. They continue to give the Huang family obstacles and opportunities that aren’t unlike what other families have to deal with still to this day.
4 Crazy Ex-Girlfriend
The fact that Crazy Ex-Girlfriend is a musical and comedy rolled into one seems almost too ridiculous. Its title doesn’t do it any favors, either. That being said, Crazy Ex-Girlfriend lives up to what the critics are saying. It’s not a show about a loser who can only find happiness through a man. It’s about an educated, mentally ill woman who struggles with the harsh realities of adult life.
One of the main reasons Crazy Ex-Girlfriend is so smart is that the show portrays main character Rebecca as a real person. She’s an ivy league educated lawyer, yet she still has her fair share of problems. The show makes life seem fair, then slips that idea away from right under you. Rebecca has a lot of delusions, just like every other human being dealing with real life. While the show may exaggerate some things, it’s too good to be ignored.
3 American Dad
Everyone originally thought that American Dad was just going be another rip off of Family Guy; just another way for Seth MacFarlane to make some easy cash. Fortunately, there’s some real depth to American Dad, which is why it has found its own place on primetime television.
Instead of following in the footsteps of its influential big brother, American Dad strayed away from using the same type of humor that Family Guy is known for. Of course, as it is created by the same person, there are similarities, but overall American Dad uses much more subtle humor.
Instead of focusing on stereotypical characters and pop culture, American Dad follows a different and more clever path. It’s all about relationships. The idea of an alien casually living among humans might convince you that it’s just another dumb show, but its incredible use of wit brings the show to another level.
2 Saturday Night Live
The sketches can be lame, over the top, and sometimes straight up not funny. Saturday Night Live has had a lot of good moments, though. Politically, the show isn’t afraid to say what the rest of the country is thinking. Saturday Night Live has also had some pretty creative and well-written skits throughout the years.
One of the best segment on the show is “Weekend Update,” which had many different hosts throughout the years. During this segment, the hosts recaps the weekly news with a comical twist. They make fun of a lot of people, but it’s also news-based satire.
This is essentially what Saturday Night Live is in a nutshell: funny, but reflective. It’s this aspect of real life interwoven throughout the sketches which makes the show way more intelligent than people give it credit for.
1 The Simpsons
As a show that’s been around since 1989, The Simpsons was originally created to depict an average working-class family. However, the working-class family has changed in many ways since then, and The Simpsons has had to change with it. The clever writing on the show gives it appeal to individuals from all walks of life.
There are plenty of intelligent moments on the show that go unappreciated. Instead of using dumb humor all the time, the writers carefully construct purposeful and intriguing episode ideas. Take for example the first “Treehouse of Horror” episode, which goes through a retelling of Edgar Allen Poe’s poem, The Raven. The episode brings together the simplicity of the average American family with one of the most revered poems of all time. It could have gone so wrong, but it worked.
The Simpsons could easily choose to do the same dumb jokes over and over again, but its wit drives it to seek new adventures.
Do you know of any other shows that are more intelligent than people might realize? Let us know what it is in the comments!