A lot has been said about how this is a peak TV era. There’s just so much to watch, we don’t have time for all of it. This is especially true for fans of sci-fi/fantasy TV. Between cable, streaming and broadcast networks, there’s a sci-fi show for every kind of fan. Love political intrigue... here’s Game of Thrones. All about apocalyptic drama... here’s The Walking Dead. Even the classics like The X-Files and Star Trek have made comebacks. The thing is, everyone watches those. Twitter is overflowing with hashtags on Sunday nights. With those winding down their runs, it’s time for some new series to become the most talked about sci-fi shows on TV.
There’s a new wave of shows that have developed loyal followings that never miss a chance to extol the many virtues of their favorites on social media. Some of these may be familiar as they do get the marketing and press coverage, but they don’t necessarily have huge ratings or mainstream attention. For some of these shows, the fact that they air on streaming services makes them difficult for everyone to find, and for others, their nights and time slots change around, making it hard to keep up with them. If you like a show on FOX, good luck keeping track of it. If you watch something on Syfy, it likely airs in the summer. However, you don’t have to figure all this out, because we’ve done it for you. With that in mind, here are the most underrated TV shows we all should be watching, but aren’t.
19 ALTERED CARBON
Recently Netflix has become known as the place for weird and crazy sci-fi series. They can be hit or miss, as some of the really out there shows find it difficult to get viewers. One of its acclaimed projects that caught on with great word of mouth was Altered Carbon, a show about a former rebel soldier who is revived to solve a wealthy man’s killing.
However, it’s not that simple, as this all takes place in a future where people’s consciousness can be implanted into new bodies. The show is not without controversy as the violence and overall tone were questioned by many critics. It’s definitely not for everyone, but its creative setting makes it worth checking out at least one episode.
18 AMERICAN GODS
Anytime you hear “based on a novel by Neil Gaiman” you know it’s going to be an interesting story. American Gods follows ex-convict Shadow Moon as he is drawn into a coming war between the old gods and the new gods. The all-star cast makes each god fascinating on their own, but when they’re woven together, things get really crazy. The always fantastic Gillian Anderson was a particular standout as Media.
As uniquely captivating as the show is, it can also be very confusing at times -- it’s a series that you can’t miss an episode of. The long wait between seasons one and two isn't a big help to the momentum of the show either. Hopefully it won’t lose any more of it before its return.
17 THE ORVILLE
Seth MacFarlane is known for his no holds barred approach to comedy, as on his animated series nothing is off limits. It’s no surprise that he used the same methods in the sci-fi world and he chose to go full tilt at the Star Trek legend with his comedy, The Orville.
Unlike Trek, his crew isn’t exactly the best of the best and his captain isn’t the towering figure of a Kirk or Picard. It all adds up to a funny, yet at times sentimental sci-fi series. It’s a nice break from the overly serious nature of the genre. The one drawback is that MacFarlane’s comedy is very much an acquired taste.
16 THE TICK
The original live action version of The Tick in 2001 didn’t break ratings records, but it developed a strong cult following that consistently demanded a revival. They got one when Amazon rebooted the show in 2016 with Peter Serafinowicz taking over as the title hero and Griffin Newman as his sidekick Arthur.
As fun as the relationship between The Tick and Arthur is, the series’ charm really lies in Jackie Earle Haley and Yara Martinez as villains The Terror and Miss Lint. They make the characters more than one note bad guys, encouraging viewers to care about their side of the story.
15 THE GIFTED
After years of comics and 11 movies, we thought we’d seen every possible X-Men story. However, The Gifted introduced fans to a world where the X-Men aren’t around and mutants are persecuted and experimented on. There are familiar characters who haven’t been showcased on-screen before, but the core of the story follows it through one specific family.
For longtime fans of the X-Men Universe it’s an interesting look at another corner of the world we haven’t been to yet. Season two seems to be moving toward the war we’ve been hearing about for years, with the main mutant characters split on each side, letting viewers pick where they want to belong.
14 MARVEL'S CLOAK AND DAGGER
As great as Marvel’s movies have been at establishing The Avengers, its TV series have been equally as good at putting some of the company’s second tier heroes in the spotlight. Cloak and Dagger follows teenagers Tyrone and Tandy as they discover they have powers that allow them to see someone’s fears and hopes respectively. They can also create a shadow cloak and light daggers, with their powers amplified when they combine them.
The first season sees them using their abilities to solve their own crisis and trying to figure out where the powers came from. It’s tangentially connected to the MCU, but having its own stories to tell separate from the movies actually works in its favor.
13 BLACK LIGHTNING
The newest addition to The CW’s superhero lineup finally focuses on an underserved section of the comic book community: black fans. Black Lightning features high school principal Jefferson Pierce coming out of retirement and putting his costume back on to protect his family and city from dangerous gang The One Hundred and corrupt government officials.
The way the show wove topical issues like police brutality and systemic racism into the weekly superhero storylines was brilliantly seamless. It also accomplished the rare feat of making the villain just as interesting as the hero. Season two is set up to examine how Jeff’s life has affected his daughters and where the city goes now that the government’s scandal has been discovered.
12 THE 100
Post-apocalyptic stories can be hit or miss -- not everyone wants to imagine the terrors that await at the end of the world. However, The CW has been able to sustain the drama in its popular series, The 100. Originally following young survivors of Earth’s nuclear destruction, the show morphed into a modern Lord of the Flies, then went into a full action adventure.
After five seasons, it seemed like it had finally solved all the loose threads, but then threw fans a curveball in the finale. Lead characters Clarke and Bellamy awoke on the ship to discover 125 years had passed and they were now at a new planet, thus setting up a reset of sorts for the show. Now we’re instantly hooked again.
Origin stories like Smallville and Gotham are hard to tell, as the audience knows where the adult version of the characters are eventually headed. It’s about making them care about the journey to get there. Krypton multiplies that by a billion since we know that the planet is headed toward a doomed future.
However, the series has done a good job of taking what we think we know and turning it on its head. We learn that the Houses of El and Zod were even more entangled than we ever imagined. Seg is an interesting precursor to what his family becomes. We also love all the strong women featured in the show and how their strength is what holds Krypton together.
Honestly, we would watch a reboot of Joey if it meant we’d get two separate J.K. Simmons performances. Luckily, Counterpart isn’t bad, so it’s no sacrifice to watch. In 1987 East Germany, an alternate Earth was created where things are the same but just slightly changed. Simmons’ Howard Silk discovers the other world and is swept into a spy thriller.
As fascinating as the "Crisis on Two Earths" and espionage of it all is, this show lives and dies on the brilliance of Simmons. He’s able to bring two completely different characters to the same person, making them equally interesting and important. We do have to wonder if the show would work with another actor in the lead?
9 CASTLE ROCK
Castle Rock is a mysterious horror series set in the weird world of Stephen King. It follows the townspeople as they unravel secrets and decades long mysteries. Look, we can’t really figure out how to explain this show, other than to say pay very close attention to every episode.
King himself urged fans to look past the various easter eggs and just enjoy the intertwined story and great cast. Though it is really fun to see how many King references you can spot. It’s not like anything else on television, and is definitely something we could only see in the era of streaming services.
Once again we find ourselves embroiled in a different aspect of the X-Men universe in Legion. However, this is a mixed up fever dream version of the X-Men, where Professor X’s son David Haller is an amazing telepath or just mentally ill. Season one set up a world where viewers never knew what was real and what was in David’s head.
Season two examined David giving into the darker impulses of his powers as he fights the Shadow King. While it’s a completely new take on a comic book based series, the varying planes, flashbacks and timelines can make the show exhausting to follow.
If there was one show on the schedule that was destined to get resurrected, of course it was Lucifer. Turning the unconventional partners solving crimes formula on its head, Lucifer has the devil joining a detective to catch criminals when he gets bored. A show like this hinges fully on the actor playing Lucifer, and Tom Ellis doesn’t disappoint.
Despite his endless charm, he always projects an air of menace so we never forget his true identity. Originally airing on FOX, the show was cancelled, then picked up by Netflix, which may turn out to be a better spot for it. We suggest starting the binge now so you’re ready when it comes back.
6 MARVEL’S RUNAWAYS
Since The Runaways is one of Marvel’s most popular titles, we knew it was only a matter of time before there was a live-action version of the team, and what we got far exceeded expectations. Comic book TV series featuring teams can run the risk of having at least one or two characters that don’t get much story. However, Runaways found a way to let everyone shine, including the parents and the kids.
With a title like The Runaways, we knew sooner or later the kids would... run away, but the pacing of the first season to get there kept things interesting the whole time. Once the inevitable happened, it wasn’t a surprise, but it also wasn’t boring.
5 THE MAGICIANS
Based on a popular series of books, it would be easy to call The Magicians a more adult Harry Potter, but it’s actually far more fun than that. It starts as the usual new kid in a supernatural world, but then quickly segues into a battle to save the world, both magical and human.
The Magicians got a bump from a new trend for sci-fi shows in the Netflix effect. A series pops up on the streaming giant, people start bingeing, then tune in when the new season starts. This has given the show a vocal following and it’s become one of Syfy’s signature series.
4 STAR TREK: DISCOVERY
When CBS announced it was bringing back the sci-fi TV show all others are based on, fans were surprised. Set before The Original Series, Discovery focuses on Michael Burnham as she tries to put her life back together after a career ending mistake with tragic consequences. Obviously, it uses some classic Star Trek tropes, but Discovery set itself apart by spending a big chunk of the season in the Mirror Universe.
Season two will interact with the Enterprise, having Captain Pike take over command of the Discovery. Since Burnham was raised by Sarek, Spock will also appear, bringing it fully into the Star Trek universe.
3 LEGENDS OF TOMORROW
DC’s Legends of Tomorrow had a rough entry into The CW’s Arrowverse. Its first season was uneven and poorly paced. However, season two saw the show lean into its more ridiculous tone and the show significantly improved. By season three, its full-on, unapologetic craziness had it quietly becoming the best of the quartet of superhero series.
With Sara taking over full time from Rip, the show adding real life to its time travel, a team that clicks on every level and Constantine coming on board, every week Legends became can’t miss TV. It’s the rare comic book show where you don’t need to know a lot of backstory going in. It’s just pure entertainment.
2 WYNONNA EARP
What Syfy does best is just throw a crazy idea at the wall and see what sticks. With its series this can lead to more misses than hits, but when they do hit, they really work. If we said here’s a show about Wyatt Earp’s great-great granddaughter using his magical gun to kill supernatural threats, you would have some questions.
However, the way Wynonna Earp blends drama, horror, fantasy and comedy makes it irresistible. In the age of binge watching, it’s a series that once started, must be finished. With its western setting, connection to actual history, strong female characters, supernatural elements and unpredictable nature, it basically ticks all the boxes for a fan of any aspect of the genre.
Though we can’t imagine why, there are still some fans of fantasy stories who aren’t watching Outlander. WWII nurse Claire is thrown back in time where she meets and falls in love with Scottish outlaw Jamie Fraser. Their epic love story is told through history as they overcome the obstacles that keep pulling them apart.
The show has action, intrigue and of course romance. Everything that happens hinges on the amazing chemistry between stars Sam Heughan and Caitriona Balfe. The show has an extremely passionate fanbase, so it is rather popular, but it still feels like more people should be talking about it. Season four sees Jamie and Claire follow Diana Gabaldon’s fourth book Drums of Autumn into the American Revolution.