We’re in the golden age of television and as viewers we are absolutely spoilt for choice, but with Netflix homogenising what we see, it becomes easy for some of the best shows to slip under the radar. Here are some of the strongest series we’ve seen in recent years that you’ve probably never heard of; but once you’ve seen them, you’ll never forget them.
As a highly stylised experiment in long-form storytelling that dabbles in surrealism, you wouldn’t guess Legion was a Marvel property. Following David Haller (Dan Stevens), a patient in a psychiatric hospital who isn’t certain whether he is schizophrenic or has superpowers, Legion is the most refined exploration of mental illness on television, using its collection of characters to interrogate the entire spectrum of mental health. Stylistically the show is framed entirely within David’s mind: scenes abruptly shift into old black and white film with title cards replacing the dialogue, at times the sound is completely removed and the viewer is no longer party to conversations, fight sequences turn into dance battles or anime; the show is eager to play with style and refuses to conform to any one genre. The experience of watching this show is unlike anything else you’ll find on TV, and it’s one that will leave you thinking about its content weeks after the binge.
Imagine Childish Gambino’s This is America as a TV show. Welcome to Donald Glover’s Atlanta, a sitcom like no other, an acclaimed opus that exemplifies black genius in television. Glover writes, stars, and directs flawlessly alongside long-time collaborator Hiro Murai (the director of This is America) and brother Stephen Glover. The story revolves around Earn (Glover), a young Princeton dropout who’s homeless and trying to help raise his young daughter. When his cousin Paper Boi drops a viral hit, Earn wants to step in as his manager and make an indent on the Atlanta rap scene. The chronicling of this slow but steady rise to fame is placed within a genre hopping, cinematically stunning imagined version of Atlanta. It bears little resemblance to reality and exaggerates its inhabitants beyond caricatures. Atlanta is a breath of fresh air for a sitcom and is unafraid to rip into the pitfalls of American culture on black working class communities.
Sharp Objects (HBO)
Sharp Objects is a beautifully perverse masterpiece, a Plathian horror-show of ever mounting dread that slowly eats away at its viewer. Based on the novel by Gillian Flynn – author of Gone Girl – and held together by an award-winning performance by Amy Adams, the series follows Camille Preaker (Adams), an aspiring crime reporter in St Louis, Missouri who returns to her hometown to report on the murders of two teenage girls. The show is a deep and unflinching case study of abuse, one that doesn’t centre on the murders but instead on Camille’s relationship with her mother (Patricia Clarkson) and half-sister (Eliza Scanlen). As a perfectly paced mini-series, Sharp Objects is a pinnacle of feminist storytelling, but it certainly isn’t for the faint-hearted.
In the Flesh (BBC Three)
Gay Zombies?! One of the most sophisticated explorations of queer identity on television, In the Flesh soars where so many other shows belly-flop. Set post-Zombie apocalypse in a world where the NHS have found a cure, the show tells the story of Kieran, a young PDS (Post-Deceased Syndrome) sufferer who has been cured of his rabid state and is ready to go home to his parents’ village in Lancashire. However, as attention was focused on cities during the apocalypse, rural communities had to fight back and are prepared to continue defending themselves against the undead, rabid or not. Written by playwright Dominic Mitchell, In the Flesh places its emphasis on quiet character beats rather than gore and violence. Its brimming romance plots only add to use of the zombie metaphor as one of contemporary queer experience in small town communities and provides a unique and devastatingly honest view of the prejudice that continues in England today.