We’re living in a new golden age of genre television, as many networks’ top-rated programs incorporate into their stories some element of either science fiction, fantasy, horror, or the supernatural. But why do some shows with great potential become less popular than others? Why are certain quality series destined to be sidelined in favor of others?
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In the list below you’ll find 15 genre shows from the past decade that are highly underrated. Perhaps they were canceled too soon, not allowed enough time to grow; or maybe they finished strong, but still never found a large fanbase. Whatever the case, check out the shows below and respond with your top picks in the comments!
SPOILER WARNING: The following article contains spoilers for many of the shows listed below.
Joss Whedon has created a slew of beloved characters across his original programming; however, one of his shows that doesn’t get enough love — and one that was definitely canceled too soon — is “Dollhouse.” Premiering in February, 2009, and ending after just two short seasons in the beginning of 2010, “Dollhouse” didn’t find its footing right away, but once it did, it became a beacon of television ingenuity for its time.
“Dollhouse” is a show about an underground company that programs “actives” — living people whose memories have been wiped clean — to do the personal bidding of high-paying clients, only for those new memories to be wiped as well. During its stunted run, the high-concept serial drama delved into the morally ambiguous aspects of technology, and the philosophical and psychological effects that the use of technology could have on someone. Unfortunately, as season two was really beginning to set itself apart from other science fiction programming of the time, Fox terminated its future. While it was able to wrap up the major storylines, “Dollhouse” was never truly given a chance to become that special series that it was rapidly on its way to becoming.
14. INTO THE BADLANDS
A masterful warrior who wants out of his brutal profession, a powerful woman with the desire for change in a world ruled by men, a boy who struggles to suppress his inner demon, a tyrant with a lust for control; these are the interconnected stories of “Into the Badlands,” an AMC television program from the creators of “Smallville,” Alfred Gough and Miles Millar. In a distant, post-apocalyptic future where survival is not guaranteed, the skills of combat may be the deciding factor in one’s own fate.
“Into the Badlands” is a series worth watching, as it really excels in quite a few areas. Its visuals are oftentimes breathtaking, with beautiful backdrops and the utilization of brilliant colors for costumes, buildings and landscapes. Its martial arts roots are expertly displayed, too, through dazzling fight sequences choreographed by Hong Kong actor, Stephen Fung. On top of that, the characters are truly dynamic, with new layers revealed in every episode. For some reason, this show has flown under the radar of many. If you have not yet had a chance to check it out, do so soon, as its second season will be premiering on March 19, 2017.
13. DARK MATTER
First published as a comic book miniseries for Dark Horse, Joseph Mallozzi and Paul Mullie’s “Dark Matter” tells the tale of a small group of amnesiacs who awaken from stasis aboard a spaceship, and are thrust into a universe of unknown trials and tribulations. Now a SyFy television production from the same duo, the story is steeped in mystery and suspense, all the while set in the backdrop of space — and it deserves some more attention.
Having wrapped two seasons with a third on the way later in 2017, this is the type of series that will keep you guessing with every episode — and regularly leaves you speechless by episode’s end. Sure, some of the protagonists come off as cliches early on in season one, but as time goes on, each character gradually develops into his or her own unique person, each with individual revelations that not only impact themselves, but their shipmates, and sometimes the galaxy as well. This show is fun, smart and witty. If you’ve been unsure about “Dark Matter,” or haven’t heard of it at all, now is the time to jump on board with the crew of the Raza.
Based on the British drama “Real Humans,” Sam Vincent and Jonathan Brackley’s “Humans” is a television series about a family who purchases a Synth — a synthetic, humanoid, household machine; but the trouble begins for humans and synths alike when some of these lifelike robots awaken their innate sentience.
Just like its title, the story itself, at its very center, is quite human. On a macro level, “Humans” deals with the cultural and social themes of artificial intelligence: the fear some hold towards the unknown, and the support for all conscious beings, even if they are man-made. While on a micro level, and where the show really finds its life, is in its familial engagements; how the everyday person or family interacts with the Synths. This is a deeply personal character drama, that tests the limits of what humans know to be true. The second season of “Humans” began on February 13, 2017, on AMC.
What do you get when you cross the snarky, over-the-top British humor of “Misfits” (more on that show later) and the supernatural, world-building of “Buffy the Vampire Slayer?” Why, you get “Crazyhead,” of course! From the ever-interesting mind of Howard Overman comes the tale of Amy (Cara Theobold) and Raquel (Susan Wokoma), two very different personalities who are drawn together by one common factor: they see demons. Tagged as “Seers,” the women are forced into an age-old fight against beasts from Hell and the impending apocalypse, all while navigating ordinary life as young adults.
Not many shows run an emotional gamut during every episode, but somehow, within the span of 45 minutes, “Crazyhead” manages to do this in practically every scene. It’s at times whimsical and sincere, and others ludicrous and intelligent. The series expertly digs into the characters’ many human emotions, through every possible scenario — whether otherworldly or commonplace. With the first season currently on Netflix (a second, unfortunately, has yet to be announced), “Crazyhead” is an entertaining, supernatural adventure that isn’t getting the press it so rightfully deserves.
“Colony” is the story of a family struggling to survive under martial law in the walled city of Los Angeles, in a post-alien invaded America. Created by Carlton Cuse and Ryan J. Condal, the series focuses on Will (Josh Holloway) and Katie (Sarah Wayne-Callies) Bowman, and how each will do whatever they deem necessary in order to keep their family safe in such a strict and brutal society.
With Carlton Cuse — show-runner of “Lost” — attached to the program, it will come as no surprise that the very soul of “Colony” is imbued with mystery, betrayal and depth. The characters, both protagonists and antagonists — though these are never black and white — have shady pasts to be discovered by either their companions or enemies. They develop greatly (for better or for worse) in their relationships, livelihood and worldview, but above all else, they’re all just trying to survive in the most morally-acceptable way possible. Of course, it’s never easy. Currently airing its second season on USA, “Colony” is a fast-paced, science fiction drama with a little fanbase, and a lot of heart.
9. WAREHOUSE 13
Imagine you’ve just finished an intense and depressing television series, but you need some time before jumping into another heavy drama. So, you decide to pick something that will be lighthearted enough to relieve the stress you’ve endured for so long via that other show. You flip through Netflix and stumble upon “Warehouse 13,” the premise of which sounds utterly ridiculous; but you figure, “What the heck? Why not give it a shot?” And you’re immediately hooked.
You quickly realize that this show — created by Jane Espenson and D. Brent Mote — about Secret Service agents who work for a top secret government agency, and whose job it is to retrieve supernatural objects from the hands of ordinary people and store them in an endless warehouse — is truly something special. “Warehouse 13” is actually a charming and beautifully scripted drama about a group of unlikely partners who gradually, and realistically, become a surrogate family for one another. Its subtlety, quirkiness and down-to-earth vibe make the characters relatable and lovable. No need to wait to push this show aside for something “better,” because “Warehouse 13” has everything you need.
8. PERSON OF INTEREST
What if you had the chance to use your combative skills to stop a crime? What if you were approached by someone who has created a software that can help you actually prevent a crime before it even occurs? This is the basis of “Person of Interest,” a high-octane, procedural drama from Jonathan Nolan, about John Reese (Jim Caviezel), a retired Green Beret, and his billionaire, genius partner, Harold Finch (Michael Emerson), who use such a program to fight criminals.
But the show, while beginning with an intriguing premise, steadily becomes so much more. Not only do the leads develop into three-dimensional characters, but in a way, so does the program created by Finch. As the seasons progress, “Person of Interest” becomes a smart and engaging look into artificial intelligence in its earliest stages, and quite frankly, should be an important warning for our own world, and the times we live in today.
7. 12 MONKEYS
In the year 2043, James Cole (Aaron Stanford), a scavenger on a desolate, post-apocalyptic Earth, is sent back in time to the year 2015 to try to stop the spread of a virus at the hands of the Army of the 12 Monkeys. No one in the future (or the past for that matter) knows much about the 12 Monkeys, but what they do know is that if the virus is released, it will wipe out most of the world’s inhabitants, resulting in the future Cole is from.
Bearing only a slight resemblance to the 1995 film of the same name, “12 Monkeys,” from creators Terry Matalas and Travis Fickett, is not just a time travel story, it’s a story of loss. In particular, it explores the loss of one’s innocence, framed as a story of betrayal, when friends face friends in a decades-spanning loop. At the same time, it’s a story of redemption; there is always a way back from what you have done. This makes “12 Monkeys” must-watch T.V. — no matter what decade you’re in!
6. THE 100
One hundred juvenile delinquents are air dropped from a space station by the adult leadership of the human race, onto an uninhabited Earth. Their mission: test Earth’s atmosphere to see if it is safe for life again. It’s been 97 years since nuclear war destroyed the planet, but it might just be time to return.
It’s a real shame when a show gets written off by viewers solely because of the station that airs it. Known for its slew of teenage dramas (admittedly, “The 100” initially begins as one), the CW is also home to an excellent cross-genre program. A dystopian story that incomparably blends together ethics in the face of the unknown, political intrigue and action, “The 100,” based on the novel by Kass Morgan, is an artfully, imaginative drama with a powerful cast. Jason Rothenberg has created a show that manages to surprise in every episode, and remain original with each new season. Now in its fourth, don’t let “The 100” drop off your radar for being “too juvenile” — it may just be that breath of fresh air you need.
5. THE MAGICIANS
Based on the fantasy series of the same name by Lev Grossman, “The Magicians” is the story of graduate students with latent or newly discovered magical abilities, who attend Brakebills College for Magical Pedagogy. A dark amalgamation of C.S. Lewis’s “The Chronicles of Narnia,” J.K. Rowling’s “Harry Potter,” and something entirely new, the story of Quentin Coldwater, his companions and the seemingly impossible trials they face, is an addicting twist on common fantastical tropes.
In an era where bleak fantasy television is overwhelmingly popular, “The Magicians” offers a bit of the same, and something quite different. Alluring visuals and a talented cast make each episode come alive in new ways, while grim, nihilistic and sometimes hopeful storylines do wonders to enhance an important question: when young and inexperienced people are offered a gift of immense power — and faced with dire situations beyond their control — how will they choose to use it, and at what cost? “The Magicians” truly manages to capture the concepts of popular fantasy and place them in a realistic world, with realistic people. Currently in its second season on SyFy, now is the time to attend Brakebills and learn a new set of rules.
A group of loud, foul-mouthed, young offenders in Britain are sentenced to community service. While picking up trash outside of the community center, a freak electrical storm occurs, giving all of them superpowers that, in most cases, match their personalities. This is the beginning of the brilliant, dark, superhero dramedy “Misfits,” from creator Howard Overman.
The great thing about this show is just how unconventional it is. The protagonists are highly flawed young adults who are selfish and extremely crass; however, through absurd scenarios (the accidental murders of almost every one of their probation officers), and a law-enforced program that forces them together, each member of the aptly titled “Misfits” group experiences somewhat of a hero’s journey. Along the way, they learn to work together as a team. Lasting five seasons for a total of 37 episodes, the show has its fair share of cast changes, and a fourth season that was a little, well, lackluster; but overall, “Misfits” is an exciting, new take on superpowers in a superhero-saturated media culture.
Can a small town in modern society move forward after being cut off from the rest of the world? This is one of many questions at the center of “Jericho,” from creators Stephen Chbosky, Josh Schaer, and Jonathan E. Sternberg. After a nuclear bomb is detonated in Denver, Colorado, the people in the nearby town of Jericho, Kansas strive to keep their community safe from the fallout, while also being technologically isolated from the rest of the world. What begins as a micro look at what would happen to a limited area, soon shifts to the macro level as the residents of Jericho discover that the Denver bomb was only one of 23 across the nation, all detonated at the same time.
After two cancellations — yes, two — “Jericho” didn’t really begin to find its audience until it was discovered by many via Netflix streaming. A shining example of the early stages of a post-nuclear America, before post-apocalyptic shows were all the rage, “Jericho” effortlessly immersed itself in family matters, mystery and suspense. Had it premiered within the past few years, things may have looked different, but the sad reality is that “Jericho” was destroyed way before its time.
2. BEING HUMAN (UK)
What do a century-old vampire, an unhappy werewolf and a recent ghost all have in common? They just want to be human. How can they ensure such an ordinary life? They can rent a flat together. In “Being Human,” a five-season, UK supernatural drama from creator Toby Whithouse, Mitchell (Aidan Turner), George (Russell Tovey) and Annie (Lenora Crichlow) decide that living among humanity is their best option at reaching the goal of normalcy.
It may sound like a funny concept, and in a way it is, but the deep struggle for these individual characters at maintaining a routine life makes the show work — and very well at that. “Being Human” is a fascinating, realistic look at the intersection of the natural and the supernatural world, both of which stand as rich settings wherein the protagonists perpetually fail. At times, the show can be extremely disheartening; but with a union of humor, violence and brutal honesty, “Being Human” reveals the heart of what all people long for: fitting in.
1. ORPHAN BLACK
Arguably one of the best genre shows on television right now, Graeme Manson and John Fawcett’s “Orphan Black” has just one problem: it’s not that widely known. The series revolves around Sarah Manning (Tatiana Maslany) and her discovery that she is one of many clones. In what becomes a conspiracy-induced, fast-paced drama about identity — personal, gender, cultural and familial — it’s such a shame that going into its final season this June, the masses still haven’t even heard of it.
The multiple clone characters, all with varying personalities and different displays of body language, are each wonderfully realized through Maslany’s unparalleled performances — so much so that she’s been nominated for a “Best Actress” Emmy twice, winning the award in 2016. And while all of the actors on the show bring their characters to life in ways many casts are unable to, the show deserves credit for its exceptional writing and directing, as well. “Orphan Black” is certainly a unique standout in the ever-expanding culture of genre television.
What are your favorite underrated genre shows of the past decade? Let us know in the comments!
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