At this point, it’s a cliché to complain that there’s too much television and not enough time to watch it all. But the fact that it’s a cliché doesn’t make it any less true. The stories about how overwhelming this era of “peak TV” feels began years ago, and the number of shows in production has only continued to increase. But what really hammers the point home isn’t the growing list of everything we watch in a year, but the even longer list of everything we’ve been meaning to get around to.
It’s impossible to even keep up with the existence of all the new shows, let alone actually watch them. Even as someone who literally spends two-thirds of the day in front of a TV, and obsessively tracks premiere dates on three separate calendars, I’ve still been caught off guard when logging onto Netflix and seeing a trailer for the second season of a show I’d never heard of. (Sick Note has been duly noted; I’ll get around to it in 2020.) On one hand, it’s wonderful to have so many options, especially when those options mean more diverse creators and stories. But on the other hand, it means that so much good stuff goes completely overlooked.
Did you know Facebook Watch aired a teen drama starring “lesbian Jesus” Hayley Kiyoko? Or that Audience Network has a comedy about polyamory that’s going into its fourth season? Have you checked out Cartoon Network’s utterly infectious Craig of the Creek, featuring voice actors ranging from Brooklyn Nine-Nine’s Terry Crews to My Favorite Murder’s Karen Kilgariff? Did you ever get around to YouTube’s Cobra Kai, a surprisingly good series based on The Karate Kid?
Fortunately, the holidays mean there are slightly fewer new shows airing than usual, which buys us some time to catch up (doubly true if you’re avoiding your family.) If you’re looking for a few to check out, here’s a handy list of the best overlooked shows of 2018.
The End of the F***ing World
Despite being championed by nearly every television critic I know, The End Of The F***ing World (their stylization) is one of the shows that just prompts blank stares when mentioned. It doesn’t help that it’s tough to sell. The series follows 17-year-old James (Alex Lawther), who thinks he might be a psychopath. He goes on a road trip with his classmate Alyssa (Jessica Barden), planning to murder her by the end of it. A lighthearted romp! Of course, it goes deeper than its premise. The series, which originally aired on the UK’s Channel 4 and is based on Charles Forsman’s graphic novel of the same name, is pitch-black fun, and a twisted romance that’s both whimsical and violent. It’s a show that makes viewers care about its screwed-up, unlikable leads, and it depicts teenage misanthropy and being on the cusp of adulthood in a thought-provoking way. Plus, it’s wonderfully short: eight episodes, all under half an hour long. It’s the rare show with a perfect, satisfying ending. A second season has been ordered, but in the right hands, that could work, too.
Sorry for Your Loss
Speaking of hard sells, this one has a triple whammy: it’s a Facebook original, it has a depressing title, and it boasts an equally depressing premise. Sorry for Your Loss stars a magnificent Elizabeth Olsen as Leigh, a writer who was recently widowed and is trying to piece her life back together. The show’s primary sell is “It’s about grief,” which doesn’t sound like much fun on paper. But the result is a surprisingly engaging, remarkably well-written mediation on the different, less-celebrated ways to grieve. Leigh’s grief isn’t expressed in the typical solitary crying that TV often relies on. Instead, she’s seen through a combination of numbness and anger. She’s angry at her deceased husband Matt, at her husband’s brother, at the “perfect” widow in her grief group (who Leigh calls the Jackie O. to her own Courtney Love), at her desperate-to-help family (including The Last Jedi’s Kelly Marie Tran as her sister), and, of course, at herself. Matt’s death isn’t just explored through Leigh, but through other characters who knew him, allowing the show to trace the ripple effects one person has on the world. It’s occasionally darkly funny, and by the end of the short first season, it’s also pretty cathartic.
Where to watch it: Facebook Watch
One of Hulu’s first original series ended its four-season fun a few months ago, but that’s just a better reason to check it out. (At least you’ll be assured that it stuck the landing.) The half-hour dramedy, which began its run as a fun look at the weirdness of casual dating (especially online), quietly became one of the most interesting, introspective relationship series on TV. Anchored by siblings Alex (Tommy Dewey) and Valerie (Michaela Watkins), Casual never hesitated to dig into its uncomfortable interpersonal relationships, but it always managed to do so with humor. And it remained fully committed to having its characters grow and evolve realistically, right until the very end.
Where to watch it: Hulu
The buzz around Schitt’s Creek has been slowly growing as it prepares to begin its fifth season next month, yet it’s still one of the most undervalued programs on television. Granted, it’s hard to find Pop TV, where it originated, but fortunately, the first four seasons are streaming on Netflix, which is a blessed match, since the show works even better in marathon form. The key to Schitt’s Creek is to fully immerse yourself in its world and simply enjoy its fairy tale-esque approach, as the show embraces its titular weirdo town much like NBC’s underrated Trial & Error embraced its similarly weird setting. The comedy follows the Rose family (which consists of Eugene Levy, Catherine O’Hara, Daniel Levy, and Annie Murphy) as they go from riches to rags and end up in the small town of Schitt’s Creek, forced to adapt while refusing to fully compromise themselves. The show is funny, queer, and silly, but it’s also appealingly warm. The writers seem to truly love their characters and want to see them happy. That shouldn’t make a show stand out, but it does.
On My Block
Much of On My Block functions like adolescence: it’s awkward, uncomfortable, off-balance, with plenty of ups and downs. But it’s also immensely charming as it follows a group of high schoolers in South Central Los Angeles. Even in an increasingly color-conscious environment, it’s a rare showing. It’s a teen sitcom with a group of diverse kids at the forefront, rather than having a character of color lazily thrown in to round out the cast. The series deftly weaves together typical teen fare like crushes and parental expectations with the realities of everyday crime and gang violence. (Oddly, there’s also a Goonies-esque treasure hunt thrown in.) It feels lived-in from the very beginning; it doesn’t take long for the creators to warm up to the characters and root for them. By the end of the first season, when everything comes into focus, it’s clear it was worth the ride.
Detroiters isn’t just one of the year’s most overlooked comedies; it’s one of the year’s best comedies, period. It’s a comedy for those who rolled their eyes at the dead seriousness of Mad Men, for those who appreciate loving references to Detroit culture, for those who frequently rewatch sitcoms to catch the jokes they missed the first time, and for those who simply want to laugh about life for half an hour. The comedy follows two best friends and business partners (played by real-life BFFs Sam Richardson and Tim Robinson) as they make low-rent ads for local businesses. It’s small-stakes comedy that results in big laughs, and it’s one of the most entertaining and genuinely joyous shows out there.
Where to watch it: Comedy Central
Of all the shows on this list, Loudermilk is going to be the toughest to find since Audience Network basically only exists on AT&T U-verse and DirecTV Now. That’s a shame because Loudermilk (and a few of Audience’s other shows, such as You Me Her) is a nice, weird little comedy that’s just offbeat enough to be interesting. Rob Livingston stars as Sam Loudermilk, a grumpy recovering alcoholic who now works as a substance abuse counselor. It’s yet another blend of comedy and drama, propelled by its humorous approach to bleak storylines. Even Will Sasso’s role as Sam’s best friend / roommate goes surprisingly deep, especially when their friendship takes a dark turn at the end of the first season. Loudermilk is notable for providing an honest exploration of addiction, even when it gets a little weird.
Where to watch it: Audience Network
United Shades of America
For the first two seasons of W. Kamau Bell’s brilliant comedic docuseries, the loudest reactions came when he interviewed people who hated him and his community: season 1 opened with Bell talking with members of the KKK, while in season 2, he made headlines for including an interview with white supremacist Richard Spencer. But what stands out most, especially in season 3, is when he simply talks to people who rarely get to speak for themselves, such as the people who live at the border of the US and Mexico or members of the disability community. Bell approaches each episode with a mixture of genuine curiosity and lightheartedness, frequently weaving in his signature comedic style. But most importantly, he actually listens, and he knows when to turn off his comedy instincts and get serious. It’s an insightful look at people and places outside of our familiar comfort zones, but it never gets too preachy.
If there were any justice in this world, Claws would be one of the biggest series currently airing, with appearances on multiple year-end best-of lists. But alas, even in its second season, it has continued to slip under most critics’ radar, even though it seems designed to stand out. The colorful, hilarious, absolutely addictive drama plunges viewers into a world that’s as much about a nail salon as it is about organized crime in Florida. Claws is funny and violent, ridiculous and brutal. It’s not uncommon for a choreographed dance sequence to layer upon a shocking murder. The entire show is worth it just for Niecy Nash’s pitch-perfect performance alone.
Take My Wife, Vida, America to Me
While Outlander and Power rightfully get all of the attention, the majority of Starz programming has been wonderful — and generally overlooked — this year. There’s Take My Wife, originally on the now-defunct comedy streaming service Seeso, which was created by and stars queer comedians Cameron Esposito and Rhea Butcher. The series takes a typical sitcom approach to love, marriage, and work / life balance but with a lesbian couple at the center. And no one dies! There’s also America to Me, a powerful docuseries that focuses on the racial inequality and the imbalance of a public school in the Chicago area by following around an outspoken group of students who candidly share their perspectives. Finally, there’s the beautiful, heartbreaking Vida, which sheds light on queer and / or Latinx communities as it follows two sisters trying to repair their relationship while also dealing with the sudden death of their mother.
Where to watch them: Starz On Demand, the Starz app