Television is an ever-changing landscape. From the early days of sitcoms and procedurals, to serialized dramas like Lost and 24 taking over in the early 2000s, to an obsession with antiheroes, to the current state of streaming that has every type of show you can think of, there’s a lot of content out there to go around. What to choose can be a herculean task in and of itself that sometimes takes so long you give up and watch something familiar instead.
Recently, I was reminiscing on my favorite shows from over the years. While many of them are popular shows with plenty of fanfare, I also realized a decent chunk of them are underappreciated. We all have a few shows we wish didn’t get cancelled or we feel deserve a much larger audience. I didn’t include ones here that I haven’t personally seen that may be on other “most underrated” lists. I chose ten near and dear to my heart. Some were cancelled, some ended on their own accord, and some are still in production today. If you find yourself struggling to choose what to watch next, try out one of these ten underrated gems.
10. The Black Donnellys (2007) (NBC)
Back in early 2007, as I was close to finishing my senior year of high school, the crime drama, The Black Donnellys, premiered on NBC. Taking place in New York City’s Hell’s Kitchen neighborhood, the series follows four Roman Catholic Irish-American brothers and their involvement in petty and organized crime. Jonathan Tucker is the leading man in Thomas “Tommy” Donnelly, the honest brother who’s conflicted between fighting for his family or keeping on the straight and narrow. Olivia Wilde plays his childhood friend Jenny Reilly, who Tommy is in love with but they have a complicated relationship.
The series was cancelled midway through its first season due to poor ratings, and NBC aired the rest of the 13 episode season online. Without a second season, this one never truly got the chance to realize its full potential. The glimpse we got was promising though. I think it was a show slightly ahead of its time, and if it came out in today’s streaming world it could have been quite successful. It’s still available for free on NBC, so if you’re ever looking for a quick watch, this is a fun one.
9. Undeclared (2001-2002) (Fox)
Judd Apatow’s follow-up to Freaks and Geeks never quite achieved the cult status that its predecessor did, but it’s arguably even funnier at times. Being about a group of college freshmen at the fictional University of Northeastern California, it’s quite relatable for those of us who have gone through the ups and downs of college. It only lasted one season but the cast is stacked. Jay Baruchel, Charlie Hunnam, and Seth Rogen are some of the main characters while Jason Segel, Amy Poehler, Kevin Hart, and Busy Phillips all have recurring roles. Similar to Freaks and Geeks, it’s pretty unbelievable to see so many high profile actors working together before they all rose to stardom.
8. Fresh Meat (2011-2016) (Channel 4 UK/Streaming on Amazon Prime)
Quite popular in the UK but not so much in the US, Fresh Meat was the door to success for a couple of UK actors/comedians like Jack Whitehall and Zawe Ashton in the early 2010s. It also starred Joe Thomas from the buzzed about series The Inbetweeners. Needless to say, this coming-of-age college dramedy was a hit in the UK.
It follows six students in their first year of university (except one of them, Howard) who all live in a shared house off campus due to applying late. It deals with the trials and tribulations of university life, with plenty of laughs along the way. Even more so than Undeclared, something just feels very relatable about this entire series. We’ve all been one of these characters in our own lives or known someone like them, and for me it was like taking a trip down memory lane to a degree. There’s a comfort to seeing these characters all hanging out at the pub. I remember the days where all we had to worry about was which pub or bar to meet up at with our friends or where the next party was. For those of you who are younger, it’s a fun look at what’s ahead and also at the real life issues that you can run into along the way. For those of us who are beyond those years, it’s a nostalgic look back at simpler times.
7. Black Spot (2017-Present) (Netflix)
I just stumbled upon Black Spot last summer on Netflix. It’s a French-Belgian supernatural thriller that originally aired in France as Zone Blanche in 2017. For those into shows like The Killing, Broadchurch or Twin Peaks, this one’s for you. There’s two seasons now and there are rumblings of it being renewed for a third season (fingers crossed).
The premise: Captain Laurène Weiss is the head of the local police in her small, isolated hometown of Villefranche, surrounded by a large forest in the mountains. The corpse of a young woman is found hanging in the forest, which leads to eccentric new prosecutor Franck Siriani being sent to Villefranche to learn why the town’s murder rate is six times the national average. We discover in the pilot that there’s already unease in the town due to the mayor’s daughter disappearing recently, and we get the inkling that the forest surrounding the town is a strange and dangerous place…I’ll say no more and let the mystery pull you in.
6. Happy Endings (2011-2013) (ABC/Streaming on Hulu)
Ah…the comedy that got away. Following six friends’ lives and adventures together in Chicago, Happy Endings begins with Alex (Elisha Cuthbert) leaving Dave (Zachary Knighton) at the altar. It not only impacts the two of them but also their small, tight knit group of friends. This initial premise paves the way for us to get to know these six wacky characters and their friendships/relationships. All of them have their moments of comedic glory, and the series gets better and better as it finds its flow. It may not have a legacy like Friends or The Office, but this one is as laugh out loud funny and as enjoyable as any of the best sitcoms.
This one not succeeding when it originally aired is mostly due to ABC’s bizarre scheduling of it. They aired a lot of the first season out of order to try and make it seem like a sitcom where you could tune in any random week. The problem with that plan is that there is a serial nature and order to the show. Thankfully this was fixed for streaming services/DVDs, but then they erratically scheduled the third season which sunk the show’s ratings and in turn, ABC cancelled it. There’s been a few moments over the years where a revival has been talked about, but it hasn’t come to fruition yet. Here’s to hoping.
5. Justified (2010-2015) (FX/Streaming on Hulu)
Justified busted onto the scene in 2010 with Timothy Olyphant playing deputy US Marshal Raylan Givens, who is reassigned close to his hometown of Harlan, Kentucky to deliver his own brand of justice after a questionable shooting incident in Miami. His complicated history and “friendship” with local criminal Boyd Crowder (played masterfully by Walton Goggins) is a focal point of the series and one of my favorite back and forths in television. They both deliver career best performances throughout the six seasons of this Western crime drama, and the writers kept this one fresh all the way through to the solid series finale.
4. Lovesick (2014-2018) (Netflix)
This British dramedy initially aired on Channel 4 in the UK in 2014 with the title Scrotal Recall. Netflix got the rights to season one, made a season two, and changed the name to Lovesick to scare away less viewers. It worked, and a season three was made that is likely its last.
The series begins with Dylan getting diagnosed with chlamydia and deciding he needs to contact all of his previous sexual partners to let them know. He lives with his best friends Luke and Evie in Glasgow, and the series is told between the current timeline of him telling these women and flashbacks to the stories of Dylan’s exes. Evie may or may not have feelings for Dylan unbeknownst to him which complicates matters. The series revolves around these three characters’ friendships and love lives. It’s laugh out loud funny and also hits you emotionally at all the right moments. I’ve watched this one multiple times…it’s that enjoyable.
3. Bosch (2014-Present) (Amazon Prime)
Oh, Harry. How I love thee. Bosch is my favorite television show still in production. It’s one of Amazon’s bigger shows and it definitely has a solid following, but it hasn’t achieved the level of success I believe it deserves. It lives and breathes Los Angeles, using so many of its landmarks and local spots as its backdrop, so if you live in LA there’s an even deeper level of appreciation. If you don’t, it’s still impressive to see a show truly use the city it’s based in to complement the story so well.
Titus Welliver could not be any more perfect in the titular role of Harry Bosch. This character was meant for him and he gives it all he’s got. The supporting cast is solid through and through, and the mysteries that grip you from the start and don’t let go result in immediately binging each season as it’s released. There really isn’t a more reliably strong show on television at the moment: it has thrills, action, well rounded characters, laughs, drama, realism, and a solid dose of badassery.
2. Jericho (2006-2008) (CBS/Streaming on Netflix & Amazon Prime)
Personally, no cancellation broke my heart more than Jericho. The first season of the post apocalyptic action-drama aired on CBS from September 2006-May 2007. The story takes place in the small town of Jericho, Kansas and focuses on the townspeople coming together in the aftermath of nuclear attacks across the country. Their communication with the outside world is cut off and they’re in the dark about what exactly has happened and what the current state of the country/world is.
Jake Green, played by the undervalued Skeet Ulrich, is our protagonist – he fled town five years prior and happens to be back for his grandfather’s funeral just before the nuclear attacks. He has a questionable history, but he steps up as a leader for the townspeople in this crazy new world. Lennie James steals the show as Robert Hawkins, one of Jericho’s newest residents who knows a lot more about the attacks than he’s letting on. Getting to know the townspeople and unraveling the mystery of what has happened and what’s to come for Jericho is as exciting as television gets.
Season one was fantastic, and while the ratings were decent, they were declining as the season went on. CBS cancelled the show after season one which led to fan outrage and campaigns to revive the show. Referencing a line from the season one finale, fans orchestrated over 20 tons of nuts being sent to CBS headquarters. This dedication convinced CBS to revive Jericho for seven more episodes. Unfortunately, they were done on a low budget and it’s pretty apparent when watching season two. That’s not to say the episodes aren’t enjoyable; they are. But it also didn’t feel like CBS put enough effort into advertising it, so naturally the ratings were low once again and it was cancelled after the seven episodes aired. Thankfully, we got a decent-even-if-rushed ending to the story, but it’s a shame nonetheless as there was still a lot of story left to tell.
1. Kingdom (2014-2017) (Audience Network/Purchase on iTunes)
Possibly the most underrated show of all time, Byron Balasco’s Kingdom is an absolute powerhouse of a series. Revolving around Alvey Kulina (Frank Grillo) and his mixed martial arts gym in Venice, CA called Navy St. that he runs with his girlfriend Lisa (Kiele Sanchez), this show has it all – great premise, fantastic writing, an interesting world, and an incredible cast of characters brought to life by a very talented group of actors. Jay Kulina (Jonathan Tucker) and Nate Kulina (Nick Jonas) are Alvey’s sons, both fighters themselves although Jay struggles with a drug and alcohol problem that has kept him from true greatness in the ring. Ryan Wheeler (Matt Lauria) used to be a top fighter, but he went to prison for four years after a few mistakes and hasn’t stepped in the ring since. Upon his release, Alvey wants to train him as it’ll be good publicity for the gym, but Lisa used to be engaged to Ryan years back so there’s history. You can watch to see where it all goes from there.
The fact that Jonathan Tucker was not even NOMINATED for a best supporting actor Emmy for his portrayal of Jay Kulina is a crime. It’s one of my favorite television performances of the past decade. Frank Grillo, Nick Jonas, Joanna Going, Kiele Sanchez, Matt Lauria, Paul Walter Hauser, and Mac Brandt are all in peak form too. It’s raw, emotional, addicting, and entertaining as hell.
In my opinion, the only reason the show never caught on and blew up is the fact that it was so hard to find/stream. It was on the Audience channel on DirecTV, and they refused to sell the show to Netflix or any of the other streaming companies. If this show had been on Netflix, I have no doubt it would be one of the most watched series on there. It still isn’t on any of those sites, but it is available for purchase on iTunes. I promise it’s worth the price of admission. Watch it now!