Entertainment

33 Cult TV Shows Everyone Should Watch

These series have passionate followings for a reason.

hannibal, mads mikkelsen
'Hannibal' | NBC
'Hannibal' | NBC

Not every show can achieve the broad appeal of The Office or Game of Thrones; some are destined to attract a small but loyal fanbase that doesn't need the wisdom of the crowd to tell them what quality television looks like. These so-called cult shows nevertheless exert outsize influence on the medium, pushing the boundaries of what's possible on TV.

What exactly makes a show "cult"? Short runs, limited but dedicated audiences, and influential qualities are good places to start, but for the purposes of this list, we've excluded many formerly "cult" shows that in the United States have made a considerable dent on the public consciousness—think The X-Files, Buffy the Vampire Slayer, and Battlestar Galactica. Likewise, we've included a few long-running British shows that haven't yet found a wide American audience. Regardless, the following series all have one thing in common: Despite their cult status, everyone should watch them.

Also read: The 100 Greatest TV Characters of the 21st Century (So Far)

the ben stiller show
Warner Bros. Television Distribution

The Ben Stiller Show (1992–1995)

Watching The Ben Stiller Show, which aired on Fox in the early '90s after premiering in a different form on MTV, can be like staring at an old high school yearbook. While Stiller, who co-created the series with Judd Apatow and starred in most of the sketches, was in his late 20s at the time, the show had a fresh-faced cast and a self-consciously youthful energy, bouncing from pitch-perfect pop culture parodies, like the Manson/Lassie mash-up starring Bob Odenkirk as the famed criminal, to bits of elaborate absurdism, like the Mr. Show-esque "The Legend of TJ O'Pootertoot." Given the talent involved—besides Apatow and Odenkirk, future stars like Andy Dick, Janeane Garofalo, and David Cross also worked on the show—it's no surprise that The Ben Stiller Show serves as an object of cult obsession for alt-comedy historians, but the sketches themselves retain their goofy potency. —Dan Jackson

cowboy bebop
Funimation

Cowboy Bebop (1998–1999)

If there's That One Anime that weeb friends will pitch you as the thing to change your mind about anime, Cowboy Bebop is it. Director Shinichiro Watanabe's most acclaimed work, the 26-episode series is a genre potpourri of sci-fi, western, and noir tucked under Yoko Kanno's jazzy soundtrack, its stylistic influence trickling all the way down to kids' cartoons (which tracks, considering that the series was the first anime aired on Adult Swim). The result is a masterpiece about the episodic adventures of a ragtag crew of space drifters: effortlessly cool bounty hunter Spike and his pragmatic partner Jet; femme fatale Faye, who also suffers from memory loss; computer wunderkind Ed, the show's main source of comic relief; and Ein, a genetically engineered genius corgi. Like everything else in this anime, the action scenes are an eclectic mix—mesmerizing fistfights, grandiose shootouts, tense standoffs, and exhilarating spaceship battles—building to Bebop's inevitable conclusion.—Leanne Butkovic

daria
MTV

Daria (1997–2002)

I mean, it's freaking Daria. First appearing as a recurring character on Beavis and Butt-Head, Daria Morgendorffer (aka, "Diarrhea" to the boys) won viewers over as the deadpanned, cynical contrast to her moronic guffawing peers. Her supporting role proved so refreshing and relatable that a few years later, in 1997, she switched schools and landed her own self-titled spin-off, adding in Jane, the rest of her classmates, and her aloof family. Co-created by Susie Lewis and Glenn Eichler, Daria became the kind of versatile series that could seamlessly move between the lighter moments of teenhood—going to parties you aren't invited to; young, unrequited love—and the deeper ones, like issues around body image and race. It's also a rare show that remains legitimately good; having watched it both as a Youth and an Adult, I can confirm Daria and Jane's barbs are as sharp as ever. Now, liking Daria or having a Sick Sad World t-shirt is practically a calling card that says you're freaking cool, man, and watched MTV when they still played music videos, but whatever. —Leanne Butkovic

dark
Julia Terjung/Netflix

Dark (2017–2020)

Dark is frequently described as Netflix's German Stranger Things, but it's a bit of a misnomer; while the two both feature a group of kids attempting to unravel a supernatural government conspiracy, Dark is more confusion than charm, pulling viewers into an intergenerational story that will leave your head spinning. The series is set in the fictional town of Winden, a small city that houses a nuclear power plant and has witnessed a string of disappearances across several decades. Jonas, a teen who recently lost his father, stumbles across a portal contained in a cave in the forest that takes travelers through time. From there, things spiral out of control as the story takes us from the 2010s back to the '80s and '50s and eventually up to the 2050s, with everything centered around an apocalyptic event that occurs in 2020. Dark is the kind of show that will likely piss you off every episode with its time-travel hand-waving and confusing plot threads, but that's also what makes it so incredibly enthralling and earned it a dedicated following. —Palmer Haasch

difficult people
Linda Kallerus/Hulu

Difficult People (2015–2017)

Julie Klausner and Billy Eichner play two creative curmudgeons in this criminally underrated Hulu original comedy series that has a lot in common with Seinfeld and Curb Your Enthusiasm. The lead actors fully embrace Larry David's "no hugging, no learning" mantra that has fallen out of favor, but the wisecracks transcend the misanthropy. The fun comes in watching them hate on pretty much anything and everything as they try to navigate New York City and entertainment industry indignities. They were also early in trashing Kevin Spacey, which earns the show a special place in cult TV history. —John Sellers

the expanse
Amazon Prime

The Expanse (2015–present)

On the surface, The Expanse sounds like algorithm-created fan-bait: It's Battlestar Galactica meets Game of Thrones. The ambitious series combines the tense, close-quarters naval space opera of the former with the sprawling, based-on-a-book-series storytelling approach of the latter. Easy enough. But then you see Thomas Jane playing a weary detective who won't quit, wearing a fedora over a stringy Macklemore haircut, and you realize this is actually an intergalactic neo-noir. Think Raymond Chandler with a pinch of Isaac Asimov. The special effects will draw you in, but the gumshoe-with-anti-gravity-boots narrative keeps you coming back for more. It's wildly complex and challenging, just the kind of series that attracts a solid fanbase but never bursts into the mainstream—though its fanbase was strong enough for Amazon to pick up the series when Syfy canceled it after three seasons. With Season 4 and Season 5 in the books, The Expanse will likely end with Season 6 and live on for eternity as a cult series you need to watch.

firefly
FOX

Firefly (2002–2003)

A well-crafted genre show canceled before its first season had even finished airing is more or less destined for cult status, and that's exactly what happened to Firefly, a sci-fi adventure series from Buffy the Vampire Slayer and Angel creator Joss Whedon. The show stars Nathan Fillion as Malcolm Reynolds, a freedom-obsessed space cowboy and former soldier captaining the Serenity, who pilots his quippy crew around the solar system on missions that find them pilfering, smuggling, and generally rebelling against the galactic powers that be. Set in the far future, after humans have colonized another star system, Firefly managed only 14 episodes (along with a 2005 follow-up movie Serenity), which helped cement its legend as a series canceled too soon. —Emma Stefansky

freaks and geeks
Paramount Worldwide Television Distribution

Freaks and Geeks (1999–2000)

Is there any other show that was a greater incubator of talent than Freaks and Geeks? Half of the fun of watching the series, created by Paul Feig and executive produced by Judd Apatow, is seeing where it all began for the likes of Seth Rogen, Martin Starr, Jams Franco, Linda Cardellini, Busy Philipps, Jason Segel, Mike White and many other then-unknowns in its supporting cast and on its writing staff. Freaks and Geeks earned extremely passionate fans immediately due to its unflinchingly funny portrait of high-school cliques in early 1980s Michigan as experienced primarily by the Weir siblings: the army-jacket-wearing "mathlete" Lindsay (Cardellini), who decides to hang out with the "cool" burnouts who congregate under the bleachers and on the loading dock, and her little brother, Sam (John Francis Daley), who enters high school and finds that he and his cadre of geek friends are targets. Wondrously specific in its nostalgia, Freaks and Geeks is essential for modern comedy fans and anyone who has ever felt isolated. â€”Esther Zuckerman

fringe
Warner Bros. Television Distribution

Fringe (2008–2013)

If you're a big X-Files person, you've probably already cracked Fringe, but just in case you haven't, you're going to want to check it out. Fox's five-season sci-fi series about a branch of the FBI that investigates fringe science and the paranormal centers around a group of Fringe Division agents, including mildly psionic Olivia Dunham (Mindhunter's Anna Torv), Peter Bishop (Joshua Jackson), and Walter Bishop (John Noble), who get into all sorts of trouble studying weird stuff. Throughout every season, there's the looming threat of a parallel universe that's crashing into ours, with characters from both universes bounding back and forth. The show starts off a bit slow, but gets really good as it starts to examine itself, playing around with interpersonal relationships and scientific impossibilities. Despite its move to Friday night (the "death slot" for most TV shows), Fringe developed a strong following and later spawned multiple comic series, three novels, and an AR game. —ES

Garth Marenghi's Darkplace
Channel 4

Garth Marenghi's Darkplace (2004)

Before there was Documentary Now!, there was Garth Marenghi's Darkplace, a parody of a TV special centered around a fake '80s TV show that was never aired, based on the works by a fake author who never wrote any books. Got that? The show contains "present day" talking head segments from the "original cast," broken up with footage from the episodes, who explain various on-set politics, story writing gossip, and cast relationships. The story of the show within the show takes place in Darkplace Hospital, watched over by the heroic Rick Dagless, M.D. (played by horror author Garth Marenghi, played by Matthew Holness), who saves his coworkers and his patients from various supernatural threats. The six episodes were broadcast in America on the Sci-Fi Channel and on Adult Swim in 2004, and have since become a cult curiosity. The fake show is styled like a cheaply-produced '80s procedural, with deliberately bad production, acting, and special effects, and terrible (hilarious) storylines about psychic nurses and bloated eyechildren. The cast is a who's who of absurdist British comedy actors, from Richard Ayoade (The IT Crowd) to guest stars Noel Fielding and Julian Barratt (The Mighty Boosh). —ES

halt and catch fire
AMC

Halt and Catch Fire (2014–2017)

If you grew up in the '80s or '90s and have any nostalgic fondness for old-school computer games or programming on obsolete computers, the AMC tech drama Halt and Catch Fire is a must-watch. Even if that doesn't apply, though, the show packs a surprisingly emotional punch—one reason we named it the best TV show of the 2010s. The period drama, created by Christopher Cantwell and Christopher C. Rogers, focuses primarily on four characters—Lee Pace's visionary disruptor, Mackenzie Davis' programming prodigy, Scoot McNairy's cautious engineer, and Kerry Bishé's engineer-turned-executive—navigating the burgeoning Dallas tech scene in the 1980s and Silicon Valley in the early '90s, and excels with its complex character relationships and top-notch acting. The series, which spanned 40 episodes over four seasons, never quite achieved the critical acclaim as Mad Men, but it's on the same level of storytelling, which its small but loyal group of fans appreciated during its too-short run.—John Sellers

hannibal tv show
NBC

Hannibal (2013–2015)

Conceived by Bryan Fuller, the writer behind quirky-and-cancelled cult shows like Pushing Daisies (see entry below), this network TV series based on the cannibalistic Thomas Harris character made famous by Anthony Hopkins should not have worked—and, at least from a viewership perspective, it never totally did. Chalk that up to Fuller's creative storytelling approach, which includes shifting genres and scope each season, as well as lavish production and commanding performances from Mads Mikkelsen as Hannibal Lecter and Hugh Dancy as profiler Will Graham, who grounded the ridiculous twists and turns required of network crime procedurals. The well-crafted series amassed a fervent group of superfans calling themselves Fannibals, and the continued interest has led to speculation that the show might get a long-overdue pick-up for a fourth season. If that comes to pass, enjoy it with some fava beans and a nice Chianti.—Dan Jackson

happy endings
Sony Pictures Television

Happy Endings (2011–2013)

There's no reason that Happy Endings shouldn't have had the life of other hangout sitcoms like Friends or New Girl, running for seven, eight, or even ten seasons. But this show created by David Caspe was somehow too pure for this world. Maybe it has something to do with the convoluted premise that quickly falls by the wayside after the pilot. What starts as the story of a breakup between Dave (Zachary Knighton) and Alex (Elisha Cuthbert)—she leaves him at the altar with a guy on roller skates—just becomes a show about the lives of six Chicago friends. (ABC initially aired the episodes out of order adding to the confusion.) Happy Endings, however, is always pitched on a more absurd level than any of its counterparts. All the evidence you really need is the way Casey Wilson pronounces "au bon pain" in this clip. â€”Esther Zuckerman

the it crowd
Channel 4

The IT Crowd (2006–2013)

The traditional "three-camera" stage sitcom can be done well. CheersSeinfeld, and Frasier all mastered it. But by the 2000s, the notion of shooting comedy in front of a live studio audience was all but dead—at least in America. The IT Crowd, starring Chris O'Dowd (Bridesmaids), Richard Ayoade, and Katherine Parkinson as a lowly tech team residing in the basement of a major British corporation, proved there was still joy to bouncy dialogue and silly sight gags in a modern setting. Tremendously goofy and heartfelt, this show could easily replace hanging out with your actual friends, making it a must-watch underappreciated gem. 

the life and times of tim
Warner Bros. Television Distribution

The Life and Times of Tim (2008–2012)

It's not a stretch to say that The Life & Times of Tim is the shittiest-looking animated series that has ever aired on television; it looks like Charlie Brown and his pals grew up to be disheveled sociopaths. But that's this series' charm, along with its voice cast featuring recurring appearances from Nick Kroll, Andy Daly, Jon Daly—all before they got big—and Bob Saget, Daniel Tosh, SNL alum Cheri Oteri, and plenty of other big-deal comedians. TL&TOT—centering around a 20-something named Tim, voiced by show creator Steve Dildarian, and his moronic group of friends—often drops into profoundly embarrassing situations in Tim's work and personal lives, which he tries to lie his way out of, usually with less than impressive results. It's a deep-cut, slacker cringe-comedy mostly defined by Dildarian's distinct, bumbling cadence as Tim.

lodge 49
AMC

Lodge 49 (2018–2019)

In this era of Netflix and cutting the cord, the cable network AMC has sometimes struggled to break through the noise with series that aren't about zombies. That especially applied to Lodge 49, a seemingly low-stakes dramedy as laid back as its protagonist, Dud (played charmingly by Wyatt Russell), an aimless Southern California beach bum who joins an old-school fraternal club after the death of his father. But the show's small, cultish army of faithful viewers know that Lodge 49 steathily built out a vibrant world populated by quirky characters solving tantalizing mysteries about a secretive organization and, well, life, man. AMC opted not to renew the show for a third season, leaving Lodge 49 tantalizingly unfinished following its Season 2 cliffhanger ending. Despite the success rate with shows like this, TV needs more programs that can accurately be described as "Northern Exposure meets Inherent Vice" and that feature killer comedic turns by Paul Giamatti (as a frenetic writer).—John Sellers

the mighty boosh
BBC Three

The Mighty Boosh (2004–2007)

Even if you've never seen the English series The Mighty Boosh—or the Old Gregg scene that went viral around 2008—there's a decent chance you'll recognize its two main components: Noel Fielding is one of the new judges on The Great British Baking Show (he's good!) and Julian Barratt was the kidnapping creep Jodie Comer stabs in the most recent season of Killing Eve. The TV show itself is only a subset of the greater Cult of Boosh, what with Fielding and Barratt's theatrical stand-up shows and tours, a radio program, plus a book. But the show, centering on the friendship between the square, jazzy Howard Moon (Barratt) and dimwitted fashion slut Vince Noir (Fielding), was the most direct and accessible insight into the duo's batshit, surreal sense of humor, unhindered by things like plot or format or continuity between seasons—it often dipped into animated asides, broke out into song, and completely ditched its first season zoo setting for an oddities shop in a London neighborhood. Its weirdo appeal obviously drove it to its beloved status, and though some of the jokes don't hold up as well as they did more than a decade earlier, The Mighty Boosh still has an undeniable magnetism that gives it a key trait of a "cult TV show": the ability to watch it over and over again.—Leanne Butkovic

Mr. Show with Bob and David
HBO

Mr. Show with Bob and David (1995–1998)

For four seasons, Bob Odenkirk and David Cross turned HBO into their own bizarre comedy laboratory, a place where marching band music inspired bitter rivalries, a pre-taped call-in show leads to madness, and mobsters wouldn't dare count higher than the number 24. Unlike on Saturday Night Live, where Odenkirk had worked as a writer, the two hosts largely frowned on celebrity guests, political impressions, and repeat characters. Instead, each episode unfolded with its own manic slacker energy, with sketches blending into each other and chasing wild tangents. The intricacy of the writing makes it one of the rare sketch comedy series that can't simply be summed up with its best YouTube clips.—Dan Jackson

my so called life
ABC

My So-Called Life (1994–1995)

There comes a time in every adolescent's life when he or she must deeply, painfully, relate to Angela Chase. While the styles and the music of Winnie Holzman's teen drama are distinctly '90s—cue up the R.E.M.—the way it accurately captures the unease of high school is timeless. Angela is an avatar for angst across generations, but what you realize upon rewatches is how Holzman accurately dramatized the discomfort of every single person on screen, from Jordan Catalano to Angela's parents. My So-Called Life unfortunately lasted only a single short season, but it was revolutionary. It centered a queer teen, Rickie, before that was the norm, and argued that the small dramas in the internal lives of girls mattered just as much as anything else on TV.—Esther Zuckerman

mystery science theater 3000
Comedy Central

Mystery Science Theater 3000 (1988–1999)

The best part about watching bad movies with your friends is talking endlessly through the whole thing, finding weird actor quirks or dumb storylines to make fun of and riff off each other. Mystery Science Theater 3000 brings this experience to you, without all the fuss of inviting other people into your home. The show, which began as a small syndicated late-night show on Minneapolis local television, follows Joel Robinson (creator Joel Hodgson), orbiting the Earth in a satellite in which two mad scientists have trapped him, forcing him to watch terrible B-movies. To stay sane, Joel has crafted a few robot buddies to watch movies with, and most of the show is watching silhouettes of their heads as they sit in a theater row, while the actual movie is played in its entirety on the screen in front of them. Occasionally they'll have little interludes where Joel begs for his freedom from the mad scientists, but the substance of the show comes from listening to these characters make fun of the content they're forced to experience, laughing through the pain that comes from watching educational dating videos or really, really, really bad sci-fi movies.—Emma Stefansky

Neon Genesis Evangelion
TV Tokyo

Neon Genesis Evangelion (1995–1996)

Hideaki Anno's anime masterpiece came back into the limelight in 2019 after it was added to Netflix's catalog, giving it a legal streaming home in the United States for the first time ever. The series, which is at its most basic level about a group of teenagers with giant robots trying to prevent the apocalypse (and at its true level about humanity, depression, and isolation), is renowned as one of the seminal anime works of the 20th century. Prior to being acquired by Netflix, the series had only been available in the States via hard-to-find physical copies, bootlegs, or illegal streaming sites. If you wanted to watch Evangelion in decent quality, you had to jump through hoops to do it. Its renown meant that people were more than willing to find ways to watch it, and it's more than stood the test of time since its original run in the '90s.—Palmer Haasch

the oa
JoJo Whilden/Netflix

The OA (2016–2019)

If Stranger Things was a little too basic for you, give this wonky sci-fi series from co-creators Brit Marling and Zal Batmanglij a shot. The otherworldly Marling stars as Prairie, a blind woman who returns to society after years in captivity and quickly starts a youth group with some troubled teens. It gets crazier from there. Yes, there's interpretive dance. Yes, there are weird flashbacks to Russia. Yes, it will leave you scratching your head and searching the internet for clues. But sometimes the crazy shows are the ones you love the most, and people who love The OA REALLY love it: When Netflix canceled the show after just two seasons, fans took to the internet to stage a mass protest. Classic cult behavior. Whether it will result in a reboot remains to be seen. 

orphan black
BBC America

Orphan Black (2013–2017)

Orphan Black was an early 2010s Tumblr mainstay, one of the few shows at the time that featured a predominantly female cast of characters (many of them played skillfully by one Tatiana Maslany). Beyond that, it featured a queer, female couple—Cosima (Tatiana Maslany) and Delphine (Évelyne Brochu)—as well as other queer characters like Felix (Jordan James Gavaris) when they were still somewhat scarce on television. But aside from its representational virtues, Orphan Black is completely bonkers in the best way possible. Con artist Sarah Manning witnesses the death of Beth Childs, a stranger who happens to be a carbon copy of Sarah herself. After assuming Beth's identity in order to take control of her assets, Sarah uncovers a conspiracy as she meets clone… after clone… after clone. Eventually, she and her fellow clones uncover a conspiracy that threatens their lives. While Maslany is the main attraction in this sci-fi series, she's backed up by an excellent cast of supporting characters and a thrilling narrative that keeps viewers on their toes, even in later seasons.—Palmer Haasch

party down
Starz

Party Down (2009–2010)

Party Down may just be one of the most savage (and accurate) satires of the entertainment industry ever to exist. The brutal comedy follows a bunch of cater waiters, almost all of whom have or had bigger dreams. Adam Scott plays Henry Pollard, who returns to the gig a broken human after failing to succeed as an actor. He's recognizable from one credit and one credit only: The guy in a beer commercial who says the catchphrase, "Are we having fun yet?" His coworkers are equally sad: There's desperate comedian Casey (Lizzy Caplan), smarmy screenwriter Roman (Martin Starr), and hot idiot Kyle (Ryan Hansen). The parties they work are often lavish and their misery is palpable, but it's all ridiculously hilarious.—Esther Zuckerman

peep show
Channel 4

Peep Show (2003–2015)

Peep Show might be the quintessential cult Britsh comedy, at once the series your normie friends have never heard of and your funniest friends' favorite show. It put its creators and stars David Mitchell and Robert Webb at the center of the comedy map as inescapable roommates and unlikely best friends. Mark (Mitchell), a nervous office worker and history buff, and Jeremy (Webb), a lazy and lucky idiot with tons of half-baked business ideas, simply go about their lives, with their inner monologues constantly running as voiceover. Though it's best described as a sitcom, the show's point-of-view camera work gives Peep Show an incredibly intimate sense, turning otherwise unremarkable interactions with, say, Mark's coworker-crush Sophie (Oscar winner Olivia Colman) into the kind of super-awkward humor that drives the show. Mitchell and Webb claimed the show ended because Mark and Jez's antics eventually felt more like depressing patterns of bad habits after 12 years of adult men acting like entitled children, but for its fans, Peep Show is TV that only gets funnier on each rewatch.—Leanne Butkovic

Pushing Daisies
ABC

Pushing Daisies (2007–2009)

Rarely do you find true, genuine whimsy on TV, but that's the beauty of Bryan Fuller's Pushing Daisies. This fable about a pie-maker named Ned who has the ability to revive the dead, and the love of his life, a girl named Chuck, is just frankly one of the most delightful fantasies ever to grace the small screen. It's also charmingly morbid and filled with longing. You see, there are some rules to Ned's gift. First, he can't keep a dead person alive longer than a minute or someone else will die. The other issue: Ned can't touch a dead thing twice, which becomes a problem when he brings Chuck back to life after her murder on a cruise ship. It's a quirky murder mystery procedural melded with a swoon-worthy romance all housed in a positively magical aesthetic with the odd musical number woven in every so often.—Esther Zuckerman

sailor moon
TV Asashi

Sailor Moon (1991–1997)

Sailor Moon is largely credited with popularizing and reinvigorating the magical girl genre of manga and anime, paving the way for later series like Tokyo Mew Mew or Puella Magi Madoka Magica. The premise is classic: an ordinary girl named Usagi befriends a magical creature—in this case, a talking black cat named Luna—who grants her magical powers. Usagi, now with the ability to transform into the eponymous Sailor Moon, must now assemble a team of Sailor Scouts to protect Earth and restore the Moon Kingdom. While Sailor Moon is perhaps best known as an iconic signifier in and of itself—tell me, how many Sailor Moon shirts have you seen in your life?—the original anime series (and its source manga) stand the test of time as hallmarks of the magical girl genre.—Palmer Haasch

spaced
Channel 4

Spaced (1999–2001)

When Tim Bisley (Simon Pegg) and Daisy Steiner (Jessica Stevenson) meet by chance in a café while out hunting for apartments (or, since this is British TV, flats) they decide to move in together, even though they're complete strangers and don't know a thing about each other. Posing as a couple so they can share a flat in landlord Marsha's (constantly smoking Julia Deakin) apartment building, they soon meet and have misadventures with the other man living in their building, the conceptual artist Brian (Mark Heap), as well as Tim's buddy Mike (Nick Frost) and Daisy's friend Twist (Katy Carmichael). If you're a fan of Edgar Wright's Three Flavours Cornetto trilogy (Shaun of the Dead, Hot Fuzz, The World's End), Spaced is where it all started for Wright, Pegg, and Frost: the show constantly riffs and parodies classic genre tropes, from action-heavy war movies to The Twilight Zone, creating a surreal soup of culty TV that appeals to the embarrassing nerd inside all of us.—Emma Stefansky

Tim and Eric Awesome Show Great Job
Adult Swim

Tim and Eric Awesome Show, Great Job! (2007–2010)

The impact of Tim Heidecker and Eric Wareheim on popular culture can be difficult to quantify. Since the Adult Swim sketch series came to an end in 2010, the two have continued to work together, pursued their own individual passion projects, and appeared in more mainstream shows and movies. But the queasy, hallucinatory VHS aesthetic they created on Awesome Show, a series that introduced characters like Dr. Steve Brule and Celery Man to often-stoned late night audiences, feels like its bled into nearly every aspect of American life. All across the internet, from comedy to advertising to politics, the uncomfortable style of Awesome Show reigns supreme.—Dan Jackson

twin peaks
ABC

Twin Peaks (1990–1991)

David Lynch and Mark Frost's detective series is often credited with instilling television with artful potential. Without Twin Peaks, there'd likely be no Mad Men or Breaking Bad,  (and both shows nodded to the ABC series). And yet, the show's dreamy, saturated look is really a cherry on top. Twin Peaks is a steady stream of oddball characters and fantastical twists, encountered by FBI Special Agent Dale Cooper (Kyle MacLachlan) as he hunts for the murderer of a small-town teenager. Your weird friends love this show. You should, too. It's finally time to understand those Log Lady Halloween costumes, and to catch the strangest Billy Zane performance ever in Season 2.

undeclared
FOX

Undeclared (2001–2002) 

Judd Apatow followed up his short-lived high school cult comedy, Freaks and Geeks, with an equally short-lived college comedy, Undeclared. Despite the fact that it's set in the present day, Undeclared works almost as a sequel to Freaks and Geeks, starring several members of the latter's cast and focusing on similarly awkward, torturous, and funny moments most people who have grown up in America can relate to. Like all of Apatow's projects, Undeclared bounces effortlessly between dick jokes and profound moments of humanity, and in a single season it makes you feel like you're in your freshman hall again, wondering why that one kid's divorced dad keeps hanging around.—Anthony Schneck

veronica mars
Warner Bros. Television Distribution

Veronica Mars (2004–2007)

Whenever the fans of a show have a special moniker to describe themselves (in this case, Marshmallows), it pretty much automatically qualifies as a cult hit. The early 2000s SoCal detective series lasted only three seasons, and years later was made into a low-budget film funded by crowd-sourced donations—but the fervor among fans who wanted its return grew so great that Hulu picked it back up more than 10 years later for a long-awaited fourth season. The amateur private detective/student, played by Kristen Bell, helped define the look and feel of a UPN/CW original in the mid 2000s, a form that has only continued to blossom in the years since. 

wonder showzen
MTV2

Wonder Showzen (2005–2006)

Parodying children's programming can feel cheap and easy: How hard is it to make fun of something that's designed to be consumed and enjoyed by literal babies? There's very little risk involved in most "dirty" puppet humor, but Wonder Showzen, which aired for two brief seasons on MTV2, is the glorious exception, a show that pushed its limited concept to the breaking point in almost every episode, playing like a frenzied mash-up of Sesame Street and Jackass. Clips like the Beat Kidz segment "Who did you exploit today?," which finds a young girl asking tough questions of Wall Street workers, still pack a punch.—Dan Jackson

Need help finding something to watch? Sign up here for our weekly Streamail newsletter to get streaming recommendations delivered straight to your inbox.

Follow the Thrillist Entertainment editors on Twitter @ThrillistEnt. 
Our Newsletter
By Signing Up, I Agree to the Terms and Privacy Policy.