20 Underrated TV Shows That Need Your Attention: There have been many good shows over the years that have been overshadowed by their popular counterparts. It might be due to them being ahead of its time, or having content that has not been resonating with a larger audience or simply not getting the wide media coverage. Most of them are critically acclaimed or grew a cult status or loyal viewers over the years.
These shows have the right blend of social commentary, engaging screenplay with inventive new genres. Many of the works are created by acclaimed writers and directors who have brought their idiosyncratic style of direction from films to series. Unlike Netflix, other platforms such as HBO, Amazon Prime, Apple TV, Hulu, etc. are creating highly engaging and original content that often doesn’t get enough attention as they are out of audiences’ reach. Here are some of the series from around the world that have not got the mainstream attention it deserves.
1. My Brilliant Friend
Here is the first entry in the list of 20 Most Underrated TV Shows. My brilliant friend is an Italian language HBO series based on Elena Ferrante’s bestselling Neapolitan novel. The highly-rated series (8.6 on IMDb) immaculately explores the complex dynamics of female friendship. The story revolves around the friendship of two bright girls, Lila and Lenu, in the backward neighborhood of Naples, post World War 2.
The series explores the lives of these two girls from the adoration in their childhood to growing resentment in their adulthood. It is captured in the backdrop of class struggles, gang rivalry, domestic abuse, male aggression to the changing family dynamics. The series primarily focuses on female education and liberation. Lenu gets to pursue her higher education in contrast to the prodigious Lila who is forced to give up on her studies post-elementary school. Thus, Lila’s only escape from the neighborhood (poverty) comes in the form of marriage to Stefano, while Lena continues her higher education.
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2. We Are Who We Are
‘We are Who we Are’ is a 2020 HBO limited series directed by Luca Guadagnino. It’s a beautifully shot coming-of-age story that captures the emotional, physical, and sexual transitions of the characters through-out its 8 episodes series. Guadagnino masterfully employees the wider accentuating shots to amplify the intimate human emotions that meditates on teenage angst and sexual confusions. Th persistent melanocholic atmosphere is filled with the romantic and platonic relationship between the characters beyond conventions. After the shy Elio in ‘Call me By your Name’, Guadagnino introduces us to the uniquely dressed up loner Fraser Wilson, who is also a poetry enthusiast.
The semi-fictional show focuses on real-life individuals / female skaters who share unique idiosyncrasies as they thrive in a metro subculture or tribe in the bustling streets of New York. The conversations between the characters seem candid and heartfelt, and the director shot them with utmost realism.
The director Crystal Moselle has previously made a short film and a full feature film ‘Skate kitchen’ with the same female skater group whom she discovered on the busy streets of Manhattan. The spinoff ‘Betty” has a more intimate take on each character with their day-to-day struggles. The characters are real-life charming individuals who are protecting their individuality and eccentricities under the solace of sisterhood.
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4. Mozart in the Jungle
‘Mozart in the Jungle’ is a highly acclaimed Golden Globe award-winning series. It revolves around the bittersweet life of musicians thriving in the New York classical orchestra. In the ongoing trend of dramas and sitcoms, this show is like a breath of fresh air. It has a consistent amount of drama and humour. It focuses on an artist’s passion for his/ her art in a fun-loving way.
Each musician present in the orchestra goes through character development as they choose alternate career paths with the musical inclination throughout the four seasons. It packs eccentric characters ranging from Rodrigo (Gael Garcia Bernal) as an unorthodox artist, Hailey (Lola Kirke) as a dreamer, Thomas (Malcolm Mcdowell) as an egoistic perfectionist, and Cyntia (Saffron Burrows) as a struggler. But, unlike the Terence Fletcher of Whiplash, Thomas’s character has a change of heart as the series goes by. Rodrigo’s character comes out as the most charismatic of them all. He perfectly represents the emotional instability, eccentricity, vision, passion but most of all the inability to understand the technical and capitalist motive of any good cause.
5. Broad City
Broad City is quite an underrated series on female friendship. It explores the impending adulthood struggles of the ageing millennials. This American sitcom defies many conventional norms set up for female protagonists. It introduces a new type of trope – the woman-child. Ilana and Abbi are relatable women with imperfections but it does not affect their self-esteem. Together they go on small adventures in their day-to-day life.
The show makes a smart commentary on gender norms, work-culture ethics, Jewish ethnic stereotypes, adulthood, and relationships. Illana and Abby’s contrasting personalities with their shenanigans make ‘Broad city’ a fresh, witty, funny, and enlightening take on the woman-child trope. The colourful pop graphics appearing in between the episodes add an extra brand value for its loyal viewers who may appreciate New York’s youthful exuberance and the show’s legacy in near future.
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6. A Very English Scandal
‘A Very English Scandal’ is a 2018 British mini-series. It is set around the late 1960s political climate of England and based on the real scandal of liberal party leader Jeremy Thorpe and his former lover Norman Scott. The creator of the series presents this evident tragic tale with a punch of British humour. Thus, making it a light and witty comedy.
The show explores Jeremy Thorpe as a manipulative, sly, and closeted politician who publicly carries off a heterosexual marriage only to save and maintain his image. He keeps Norman as his kept, who eventually feels used and leaves him. Norman being vulnerable, poor, and desperate to get his national security card, sets out to get revenge on his ex-lover Jeremy. Jeremy conspires back to murder him with the help of his friend to save his status. There is an apt commentary on homophobia among insecure men and toxic masculinity. Thus, this cat and mouse chase with a hint of dark humour makes it a fun watch.
7. The Miniaturist
‘The Miniaturist’ is 2017 miniseries based on the bestselling novel of Jessie Burton. Set in 17th century Amsterdam, the show looks captivating with Victorian goth visuals. There is a perfect blend of set design, beautiful costumes, and cinematography. A young country girl Nella marries a rich merchant Johannes. Subsequently, a pretty young woman is equivalent to a rich man in a conventional society. Thus, both parties seem to make a fair deal. The subsequent supernatural subplot fades away as the simultaneous reveal of each family member’s hidden secret overpowers the mystery behind the new dollhouse. Nella transforms from a naïve town girl to a woman trying to protect her unconventional family as she develops a sense of empathy for the shortcomings of each member.
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Daria is a 1997 American sitcom. It has gained a cult following since its release. Daria Morgendorffer is a realist who has a distinctive perspective on societal conventions and chooses to question or reject those norms. Designed for the gen-x and millennials, it aged well among the gen-z who are relatively more politically aware and opinionated about the world happenings. She and her equal misfit friend Jane bond over existentialism and trash journalism.
The iconic series entered the market when Americans used to embrace the hustle culture and the ultimate American dream. Thus, the depiction of Daria’s workaholic and pushy parents, and popular sister are the perfect embodiment of the American capitalist hustle. She is designed as an outcast who is relatable but her nihilistic outlook on life has also been criticized over the years.
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9. The Wilds
‘The Wilds’ is a coming-of-age psychological drama. It revolves around a diverse group of teens from different walks of life who are left to survive on a remote island on their own after a plane crash. The show is more than a survival stint as we slowly get to know that the whole situation has been engineered as a part of a social experiment.
The female bonding through shared oppression is tested and displayed through genre binding exploration. The series is set in the present ongoing investigation of the girls with their recalling their life on the island and before it. Therefore, it is set in more than 2 timelines. Moreover, it explores the female insecurities, sexuality, abuse, added responsibilities, confusion, and jealousy.
10. Awkwafina is Nora from Queens
It is a semi-autobiographical sitcom of the American rapper and actor Awkwafina. Awkwafina plays her fictional self as an unemployed and aimless 27-year-old who lives with her grandma and father. The show has strong Broad city vibes except for the protagonist’s ethnicity (as she is Asian American). It deals with the classic millennial woman-child struggling with adulthood and bills on the streets of New York. Awkwafina’s day-to-day struggle turns out to be a series of shenanigans or mini-adventures to capture the zany energy that the shows try to achieve. With some quirky likable characters, the show has its unique charm.
11. Midnight Diner
Midnight Diner is a Japanese anthology series. It revolves around a small Shinjuku restaurant that faithfully opens every Midnight. It is run by a mysterious chef who warmly welcomes his regular customers with their favorite dishes. His customers narrate their personal life struggles through unfiltered conversations with each other and the chef. ‘Food’ is a medium for communication. The chef is a silent listener like us but he often shares his wisdom at the end of their story.
The show is like a magical ode to melancholic and meditative nightlife in contrast to the hustle life of Tokyo. His eatery attracts customers who are mostly society’s misfits and are often ignored. They are escorts, maids, gamblers, gigolos, and people from different walks of life who find solace to be completely vulnerable with idiosyncratic and bizarre issues.
12. The Great
The Great is a dark period comedy. It is loosely based on the glorious reign of Russian emperor Catherine. It portrays the Russian empire’s bureaucracy, conspiracies, brutality, and corruption with a perfect blend of British humor. Amidst the eccentric humor, It doesn’t miss to thoughtfully uplift Catherine’s idea of kindness and the beginning of the ‘enlightenment’ era in Russia. The screenplay is written by ‘The Favorite’ writer Tony McNamara. Thus, we can see his cynical mockery of the privileged Russian monarch rule.
The story evidently has a fictional exaggeration. The feminist tone with character imperfections is similar to that of The Favorite, it ridicules each character’s idiosyncratic hobbies and passions. The inhuman passions of the emperor and his ministers as well as their lustful fantasies are mocked contrasting it to animal-like mannerisms.
13. The White Lotus
The White Lotus is a new age satire on the class divide. The story focuses on a bunch of affluent family guests from different walks of life who come on a resort island to spend their vacation. It equally centers around the resort workers’ lives. It humanizes the compelled working class in contrast to the hypocrisy of the upper class. There are sharply written sequences of passive-aggressive ego clashes, awkward silences, and spine-chilling tensions aced through brilliant acting and an eerie background score by Cristobal Tapia. There are unnerving twists revealing gender dynamics, insecurities, casual sexism, and capitalist greed. The casual debates and ignorant concerns of the privileged over colonization and imperialism while voyeuristically enjoying the native dances bring out the thought-provoking irony.
14. Big Little Lies
Big Little Lies is a suspense drama series revolving around the lives of high society women who are interlinked through one murder mystery. It displays the flawed portrayal of parenting, womanhood, and female dynamics through convincing screenplay and brilliant acting. There is an instinctive commentary on toxic masculinity, gender dynamics, elitism, and unconfined capitalism.
The show is set in the two timelines, taking us through flashbacks: one before the incident and the other timeline is set on the present police investigation without revealing the victim’s identity. The show is heavy on emotional drama and abuse as all the characters go through their own family struggle inside their houses and contrasting reflection of their image displayed or to be maintained in the high society. It is one of the best thrillers made by HBO along with Sharp Objects, Mare of Easttown, and The wire.
Succession is a satirical drama revolving around a family patriarch Logan Roy who owns a successful media empire and his four children fighting to win his loyalty. Ironically, all the characters are on a relentless quest for power and money but none of them has attained genuine happiness. Logan Roy is symbolizing the scrutiny of masculine traits to reach the success ladder of unchecked capitalism. All his children our incompetent and product of his toxicity which they breed in through privilege and Nepotism.
The dark humor, brilliant performances, and cinematic realism are supported by sharp and witty writing. There is relentless workplace politics that paves its way outside the workplace and inside the Roy family. Ironically, all the staff members are more competent and qualified than the Roy children. Thus, there is an evident display of class divide among the privileged. There is a strong commentary on the ruthless American dream as the character’s questionable morality and greed to succeed contrasts with the traditional idea of hard work and talent.
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16. The Bate’s Motel
Bate’s Motel is a spinoff psychological horror series to Hitchcock’s classic ‘Psycho’. It focuses on the life of teen Norman and his mother Norma in a modern timeline (21st century) unlike the original (set in the 60s). The five seasons focus on the transition of Norman Bates from a naïve boy dealing with mental illness to a dangerous serial killer. The taboo mother-son relationship that could be presumed from the original Psycho storyline is resumed in the series.
The show uses interesting cinematic VFX techniques to display Norman’s alter ego. The characters are equally complicated and dark to fit against the backdrop of a gloomy town. Although inspired by the classic the screenplay does a brilliant job in setting Norman’s character development in the modern setting. The strong pathos of loneliness and emptiness from the original Hitchcock’s mansion can still be felt despite many supporting characters added in the series.
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Wayne is a 2019 action melodrama series with a bit of Hyperbole theme. It certainly has a ‘The end of this ****ing world ‘vibe with a more dramatic juxtaposition of teenage angst with a rebel with cause energy. It revolves around Wayne a kid from a rebellious loner with an ailing father and a heart of gold. He goes on a journey to get back his father’s stolen car from his mother’s husband with a girl named ‘Del’.
The makers of the show have an interesting take on toxic masculinity with a heroic alpha hyperbolic treatment. It contrasts with the empathetic side of the supporting characters who are ironically not represented with emotions and depth (for ex: Wayne’s principal and police commissioner). The accurate depiction of Massachusetts and Florida’s cultural nuances is perfectly portrayed with wicked humor. The extremely disturbing brutal action scenes, heavy metal background music, and distinctive cinematography makes it a perfect nominee for becoming a future cult.
18. Strangers from Hell
Strangers from hell is a 2019 psychological horror south Korean series based on a webtoon, Taineun Jiokida. It portrays the good and evil sides of the human psyche with a mind manipulating plot. It revolves around Yoon Yong woo, an aspiring crime fiction writer. He has moved to Seoul in search of better job opportunities. Due to the extremely high standard of living, he compromises to live in an eerie communal residence with a fishy ambiance, co-tenants, and landlady.
With a happening society, lots of acquaintances and busy life the show succeeds in transforming Yong – woo’s residence into a dark universe separated from the outer world. But metaphorically it is society including his bullied colleagues and ignorant girlfriend who makes him feel isolated and misunderstood. The show depicts how the limits of a good person are tested by society pushing him on the verge of sociopathy in modern society. With an equally apt soundtrack and cinematography, it perfectly captures the vibe of a southeastern urban alienation. As the series proceeds, we come to know that Jong Soo is not a reliable narrator thus making the plot more intense and suspenseful.
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19. The Middle
‘The Middle’ is an American sitcom revolving around a Mid-western working-class family. It was released with its more popular contemporary ‘modern family’ and remained an underrated gem throughout its run over a decade. But, the middle’s classic portrayal of a dysfunctional happy family makes it a “comfort” watch. It revolves around the family matriarch Frankie Heck who deals with her day-to-day struggles that mostly include the financial needs and emotional dynamics of the family.
It is like a less chaotic version of ‘Malcolm in the Middle’. The Heck siblings have entirely different idiosyncratic personalities who carry out their own subplots. But it is the extremely optimistic and enthusiastic character of Sue Heck that stands out the most. An outcast teen who is completely ignored everywhere even in her family but always keeps a highly positive attitude. Though being a sitcom it exemplifies humor with wisdom that the elders give off their children at the end of each episode.
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Hannibal is based on characters – Will Graham and Dr. Hannibal Lecter – from Thomas Harris’ novels Red Dragon (1981), Hannibal (1999), and Hannibal Rising (2006). In the series, Dr. Hannibal Lecter is played by the Danish actor Mads Mikkelsen. The first season explores FBI profiler Will Graham’s condition and establishes his relationship with Dr. Hannibal Lecter. The plot becomes more psychologically dense as Graham’s empathy for psychopathic murderers cotinue deterioting his mental state.
Director Bryan Fuller takes the viewers inside the psyche of Graham that is voyeuristically displayed in a surreal style. Unlike Hopkin’s impulsive and creepy Hannibal, Mikkelsen’s treatment is more calculated and restrained. However, besides the surreal goth cinematics, twisted plot, and ASMR-like cooking scenes, the cinema de look treatment of the corpses as displayed art metaphors by the killers makes the series disturbing on an entirely different level. And that was the last entry in the list of 20 Most Underrated TV Shows. Let us know if we have missed anything in the comments section.