10 Great Shows Set in Small Towns like Midnight Mass on Netflix
‘Midnight Mass’ continues in the lineage of extraordinary original works by Mike Flanagan on Netflix. The American filmmaker’s penchant for the horror/supernatural genre was known, but his television series trio has been a revelation. His latest work is set on a secluded island of Crockett Island, inhabited by just hundred something residents. It revolves around the miraculous changes that the people on the island start witnessing after the arrival of a new priest. The slow burn gradually unfurls the shocking, macabre truth that sparks the incredulous chain of events. ‘Midnight Mass’ has a fervent religious connection and deep-seated notions about mythological folklore. It is atmospheric, closely guarded, and never stops being compelling, especially episodes three and four. We decided to make a list of very similar shows like ‘Midnight Mass’ set in small towns with similar nature of storytelling so that you can continue enjoying your watching spree. Happy reading!
Top of the Lake
Starring Elizabeth Moss, and Jane Campion and Gerard Lee creation, Season 1 of ‘Top of the Lake’ is set in Laketop, New Zealand. The investigation in the first season revolves around the sudden disappearance and teen pregnancy of local Tui Mitcham by Detective Robin Griffin (Moss) from Sydney. Robin has her own chequered history with the town, herself a tragic victim of gang rape as a child.
Just like ‘Midnight Mass’, ‘Top of the Lake’ is set in a small town where everyone knows everyone and follows the return of a successful, albeit troubled individual back to town. Residents of the town looked down upon Robin, like Riley, who harbor animosity towards her. Having Campion at the helm helps with a matured outlook on such sensitive issues concerning the position of women in society today. Robin’s arc from a victim to a hero is beset with her process of overcoming the trauma of her childhood, something she was not able to do for years. Her grief and anger have only magnified over the period, like Riley’s guilt over killing the little girl.
10. The Outsider
For a brief time in the series, ‘The Outsider’ functions as a traditional procedural drama. A small town, fractured relationships between friends/residents, and the murder of a young boy. But soon enough, those elements are mixed with the supernatural trappings of a demon-like entity that is key to solving the central mystery of the murders.
‘The Outsider’ shares the most glaring similarities to ‘Midnight Mass’ in having an unprecedented creature haunting a small town and murdering on his own will. Despite not explicitly using people’s faith to its advantage, the “Angel” from ‘Midnight’ ensures that its mystique is sufficiently biblical in nature to entice prospectors. The entity in ‘Outsider’ looks similar and comes from the same mythological faction as the angel. Jason Bateman, Ben Mendelsohn, and Cynthia Erivo deliver convincing performances as the trio at the center of the events. ably supported by a great cast.
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9. Bates Motel
Recreating the iconic character played by Anthony Perkins in Hitchock’s classic is something that must have seemed impossible for the makers. Norman Bates truly belongs to the golden echelon of movie characters. But who knew that resuscitating him in the company of his mother would not only match but outdo the original?
Vera Farmiga and Freddie Highmore star as the mother-son duo who begin anew in the small town of White Pine Bay and buy a motel. As they settle in, a series of unexplainable murders leads Norman to discover chilling truths about himself and his mother. ‘Bates Motel’ is extremely adept at keeping you guessing with the barrage of interconnected clues it presents. They do not seem straightforward at first, but looking back is clear as day. The small-town setting yet again plays a crucial role in creating the requisite mood. One abstract theme that Bates Motel shares with ‘Midnight Mass’ is that of family sticking together on account of suspicions by outsiders. The bond between Norman and Norma is quite special and plays in heavily during the show’s runtime.
Watch Bates Motel on Prime Video
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Olivia Colman and David Tennant star as two detectives in a small coast town investigating the death of a young boy. Most of the storytelling and plot elements in ‘Broadchurch’ are similar to the other entrants in the list. It is strange how well the same kind of premise works so well in different cultures and with different actors. Like all the other shows, the small-town setting adds to the intrigue and sparks a blame game between inhabitants doubting each other.
Chris Chibnall’s stellar writing is simple in appearance but very well-rounded. Almost every character is given a life of its own, a conscience that grows and dictates their actions through the first season. They just don’t fall into certain places without any explanations, which is refreshing to see in the genre. The series focuses more on how the idyllic lives of people in a quiet town are disrupted by a rare event that has almost never happened before. Also what is interesting is the stark contrast in Tennant and Coleman’s characters.
One being from the city and the other from a rural, informal setup, their competencies differ, so do their methods and styles. Their worldview is affected to a great extent by how much real-life experience they have had in their professions. Tennant’s Hardy is hardened (pun intended) and untrusting of everyone; his compass of suspicion goes around the table; while Colman’s Ellie is warmer, more empathetic in her evaluation of the situation. This is one of the most prominent themes in the context of the character development. If you are yet to watch this show, do not waste any more time.
7. Sharp Objects
Jean-Marc Valle’s thrilling adaptation of Gillian Flynn’s novel reminded me a lot of Park Chan-wook’s ‘Stoker’. It has the same visual appearance and story structure, albeit with sufficiently differentiated thematic cores. Amy Adams and Patricia Clarkson add teeth to the relatively understated cast and star as the mother-daughter duo at the center of it all.
Like Netflix’s ‘Midnight Mass’, a small town is at the center of the narrative. It sees the return of a localite who made it big and suffers from mental depression. Both Riley and Camille carry a great burden on their shoulders and aim to reconnect with the happy memories that they lived in their homes. Camille, an investigative journalist, reports on a twin murder in uneventful Wind Gap, after being released from psychiatric care. The process leads her to a dreaded place and threatens to spoil the only thing she has cherished her entire life. ‘Sharp Objects’ also has a Shyamalan twist that is worth watching the series for.
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The Icelandic series is set in the scenic Baltic landscapes of a remote town in Iceland. There is something magical about the setting of snow on celluloid that can not be recreated by any other means. It provides the narrative with an upper hand wherever murder investigations are concerned.
‘Trapped’ looks like something straight out of ’30 Days of Night’. It strikes a perfect balance between adequately keeping the mystery going and the psychological pressure it builds on the police force, especially Captain Olafur. His character is an unusual mix of melancholy and courage rarely found in the television space. The success of the first one lead to a second installment, which was surprisingly a worthy match for its predecessor. Its conservative setting provides a great opportunity for the brilliant writing staff to examine gnarly characters without too many distractions.
In shows like this, the town itself becomes such an important part of the storytelling. The population is like a big, dysfunctional family that always knows what is going on with their members. ‘Trapped’ is a slow-burn with relatable characters and a commendable imitation of our wretched psychology.
Watch Trapped on Netflix
The German show caught the fancy of the world when it first premiered, even more so when it ended. It would probably be best not to go into explaining how or what the plot is because this article does the job well. Like ‘Midnight Mass’, ‘Dark’ is a slow burn that never seems quite deterred by diminished modern attention spans and instead takes its own sweet time to say what it wants to.
Visually, the two feature mostly cold color palettes, consistent with the mood they seek to establish. But the highlight is how well they build on their superior writing, making sure that the premise is married with compelling storytelling that is interesting and unassuming. The horror elements in both shows are quite dissociated with commonplace genre wisdom. The revelation is not as harrowing as the lead-up to it.
I remember this great James Wan quote when he was explaining his method and psychology of making horror films. “The scary part should not be what is behind or at point B. It should be in the journey from point A to B and the expectations that our great imaginations create”. Although after a point when the mystery is finally unfettered, ‘Dark’ still holds on to its appeal and because of the great work getting to that point B, emotional engagement with its characters.
Watch Dark on Netflix
All four seasons of this anthology drama have different personalities but share the same cosmological connection. Derived in character from the Coens’ 1996 blockbuster, ‘Fargo’ is one of the best dark comedies out there today.
Noah Hawley’s inspired adaptation comes with his own sense of being that is articulated with an authoritative stamp. His influence on the new creation is as clear as the homage he pays to the mercurial filmmaking brother-duo. A galaxy of stars takes to the screen in different seasons like Bob Thornton, Ewan McGregor, Martin Freeman, Mary Winstead, and Carrie Coon. Larger-than-life characters and extraordinary events picked from real-life combust well to advance Hawyley’s ambitious vision.
Watch Fargo on Prime Video
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3. Mare of Easttown
‘Mare of Easttown’ is hands down the best show of 2021. The raging drama stars Kate Winslet as the titular character, the chief detective in her small town. The plot detailing is quite similar to other shows on here; a murder in the community disrupts the harmony and trust between the members. The victim is a relatively young single mother, who is found naked out in the cold. An outsider from the big city is sent to oversee the investigation with the local forces.
Mare’s job becomes even more difficult as the mother of a girl who died years ago and whose case remains unsolved raises her voice for justice again. The success of the show is not only predicated on Winslet’s wholesome performance but also on the exemplary representation of grief. ‘Midnight Mass’ explores how the characters confront their anger, pain, and insecurities through faith and religion, whereas ‘Mare of Easttown’ sees characters introspect and deal with these issues in imperfect, human ways. The depiction of Winslet’s Mare is not as the perfect professional with a perfect life. In fact, none of the characters are. The series tackles other important issues in an unassuming manner and factual cadence.
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2. Twin Peaks
David Lynch’s epic drama remains an untamed artistic masterpiece that is the genesis of television’s transformation from a housewife comforter to a modicum of nuance and change. ‘Twin Peaks’ has a life of its own. Its world of mysterious characters functions as its own nemesis at times. The show has polarized viewers like no other piece of the art form has.
At the outset, it starts as a meandering, meditative look at the small-town life of Twin Peaks, which is abruptly struck by a gruesome murder of local sweetheart Laura Palmer. A city detective flies in to help with the investigation but himself becomes a victim of its charms. The town of Twin Peaks is like a Venus Flytrap; leaping at you the first chance it gets like a predator.
The layered narrative puts onions to shame. The writing team led by Lynch and Mark Frost has so many surprises waiting for you, there is no way you can keep up if you binge it. More interestingly, the nature and conception of those surprises are even more awe-inspiring. Despite yet to understand its full length and breadth, I think ‘Twin Peaks is one of the greatest shows of all times for the simple reason that its intrigue runs beyond a fictional plot deep into haranguing the human memory of its existence.
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1. True Detective
‘True Detective’, with all due respect, stands head and shoulders above others on the list purely on the back of an unbelievable pair of central performances by Woody Harrelson and Matthew McConaughey. It is the standard that new dramas test themselves against. Every technical aspect of ‘True Detective’ is finely tuned and works in harmony. The sound, cinematography, and writing do not fail the acting, the breathing life of the show.
Religion plays an important part in the story and is crucial in creating an abstractness, more often than not through McConaughey’s character, that reels you in. It entices you with the adventure of the unknown and keeps the guessing game afloat through an exploration of the personal lives of its leads. ‘Midnight Mass’ has a similar temperament when it comes to these dynamics of storytelling.