The downside of so-called ‘peak TV’ is that with so many options across broadcast and cable networks, streaming platforms, and special-interest channels (even Lifetime has acclaimed series these days), it’s far too easy for some gems to get lost in the shuffle. As a self-proclaimed TV fanatic, even I find it tough to keep up with all of the most talked-about shows. Quite simply, there’s too much great television being made to know what exactly I should be watching.
Allow me to make your life a bit easier with a handful of recommendations: the best TV shows you’re not watching… yet. These are some of my favorite shows, both new and on their way out, most of which tend to fly under the radar with critics, awards season accolades, or audiences.
Recently picked up for a second season, Barry is one of the strangest shows on TV right now – in the best way possible. Starring Bill Hader in the title role, the series follows an army-vet-turned-hitman who, in the pilot episode, finds his ambitions quickly changing after following one of his targets into an acting class. The supporting cast is just as phenomenal as the lead; Henry Winkler is Gene Cousineau, the classes’ absurd teacher, Anthony Carrigan is deranged (and hilarious) mobster Noho Hank, and the acting class is populated with a range of incredible up-and-coming character actors including D’Arcy Carden, Rightor Doyle, and Darrell Britt-Gibson. Expertly towing the line between a nihilistic noir thriller and uproarious cringe-comedy, Barry is in a league of its own.
You’re The Worst (FXX)
For four seasons, You’re The Worst has been turning tired romantic comedy tropes upside down resulting in a unique brilliance. With its final season approaching later this year, there’s never been a better time to catch up. The series revolves around on-again/off-again couple Gretchen (Aya Cash) and Jimmy (Chris Geere) navigating their way through a relationship that neither of them expected… or wanted. After a stellar freshman run the series really hit its stride during the second season, which delved into Gretchen’s struggles with depression.
Often taking on some pretty dark subject matter, the writers are consistently able to find both humour and compassion in a group of pretty awful, often unlikeable, characters. Case in point: Gretchen’s best friend Lindsay (scene-stealer Kether Donohue) treats her husband like a sub-human. At one point she even stabs him. Oddly, we can’t help but root for her and hope that she can get her life together. From Stephen Falk, who wrote on both Weeds and Orange Is The New Black, You’re The Worst is equal parts comedy, drama, and a ‘how not to live’ cautionary tale.
On My Block (Netflix)
Imagine this: a high school show where the kids actually look like they’re in high school, the issues are relatable, and the writing is as great as just about anything else on TV. An heir to shows like Freaks & Geeks, On My Block is the most recent show on my list (it debuted in March) and was just renewed for a second season.
Set in inner city Los Angeles, On My Block tells the story of a group of friends and their shifting dynamics as they enter high school. Unlike most young adult series that tend to focus on heightened drama, this series thrives when putting emphasis on the relatable anxieties of youth – trying to please our parents, worrying about grades, attempting to play it cool around a crush, and dealing with the complex emotions of growing up.
On top of that, On The Block throws in a Goonies-esque treasure hunt of sorts that allows for some amplified comedy especially as the season progresses.
Schitt’s Creek (CBC + Pop)
There’s a strange notion that great TV only comes from the US and the UK – the next two entries on this list prove that notion wrong. First up, Canadian-made Schitt’s Creek, an uproariously funny riches-to-rags story from father/son duo Eugene and Dan Levy that also stars Annie Murphy and Catherine O’Hara in the role that she was born to play.
A rare comedy that has gotten progressively better with age, Creek has become both funnier and more emotionally resonant with each passing season. While every episode delivers countless laughs, the series has also put a sharper focus on character development each year, resulting in the type of comedy that sneaks up on you with more heart and gravitas than you’d expect.
Babylon Berlin (Netflix)
One of the most intriguing and masterfully crafted thrillers in recent memory, Babylon Berlin is a German period drama (the most expensive non-English television series ever produced) recently released on Netflix internationally. You’ll have to read subtitles from start to finish, but the entire thing is well worth it.
Set in 1929 during the Weimar Republic, the series follows police inspector Gereon Rath (Volker Bruch) as he uncovers a vast conspiracy involving pornography, double-crosses, and, of course, communists and Nazis. The series blends painstakingly accurate historical drama with twists, turns, and production values worthy of a Hollywood blockbuster. As a history buff I couldn’t get enough, but even if you’re a bit clueless when it comes to the time period, the characters and storyline should be more than enough to keep you hooked through the electrifying finale.
Better Things (FX)
If there’s any series that will make you want to pick up the phone and call your mom, it’s Better Things. While the series has been adorned with critical praise for two seasons, it’s never been a real breakout in the ratings. Co-created with Louis C.K. (who has since been ousted), the series stars Pamela Adlon in a semi-biographical story about an aging actress raising three young girls and dealing with her own batty mother who lives up the street.
While it’s technically classified as a comedy, Better Things can bring you closer to tears than any genuine laughs at times. It varies week-to-week, constantly keeping its audience on their toes. What remains consistent is the stellar writing, fantastic performances from the enviable ensemble cast, and the fact that Adlon is one of the most compelling and capable leading ladies on TV.
The Good Place (NBC)
I can’t think of anything on television that’s quite as tough to sell as The Good Place. It’s not that it doesn’t have a million things working in its favour: it boasts both a loaded cast (led by Kristen Bell and Ted Danson) and a genius show-runner (Michael Schur, the man behind The Office, Parks & Recreation, and Brooklyn Nine-Nine), but the plot is convoluted at best. Whenever I recommend this show to a friend and they reply by asking what it’s about, I know it’s all over.
The series centers on selfish, immoral Eleanor Shellstrop (Bell), who dies and winds up in ‘The Good Place’ (aka heaven) – the catch is, she doesn’t belong there. Danson stars as the The Good Place’s architect of sorts, who designed the suburb inhabited by Eleanor and her cohorts. I’ll leave it at that and simply promise you that this series delivers as many laughs as it does twists. The cast is perhaps the strongest of any ensemble comedy on TV today, and the series itself is so wonderfully weird and full of heart. Give this one a few episodes to get into and I promise you’ll be hooked.