16 Underrated TV Shows From 2018 You Should Binge Right Now

Jim Carrey in 'Kidding.' | Showtime
Jim Carrey in 'Kidding.' | Showtime

Sure, 2018 may be a hazy recollection in the short-term memory of the internet, but it certainly produced a lot of good TV shows. Many of the year's best programs, even in a year without new episodes of Game of Thrones, Stranger Things, Peaky Blinders, or Veep, broke into the mainstream or were so well-known already that they didn't need help finding viewers. And then there were shows, like the following 16, that we feel still haven't gotten the attention they deserve. It hasn't been so long since we bid farewell to 2018, and it's always worth finding a gem you might have missed the first time around. 

a very english scandal
Amazon Studios

A Very English Scandal (Amazon Prime)

There's a chance you might have slept on it, but 2018 was secretly the year of Hugh Grant. His turn as a villainous, hammy actor in Paddington 2 is genuinely award-worthy, but he followed that performance up with arguably an even bigger triumph: A Very English Scandal. The miniseries, which is streamable on Amazon in the U.S., dramatizes a notorious event in British political history that's likely obscure to Yanks. Grant plays Jeremy Thorpe, a Member of Parliament whose affair with a young man named Norman Scott (Ben Whishaw) in the early 1960s spirals into acrimony when Norman refuses to keep quiet about their relationship after they break up. Increasingly feeling that his career might be threatened by Norman's persistence, Jeremy eventually considers murder. It's a scenario that would seem outlandish if it hadn't actually taken place, but Grant's and Whishaw's performances make this three-episode drama must-see viewing. Grant, especially, seems to have hit a new level -- the natural charm that allowed him to coast through so many rom-coms has curdled into something sinister. -- Esther Zuckerman

america to me

Steve James, the documentarian behind 1994's Hoop Dreams, returned to a Chicago high-school setting and produced one of the most essential examinations of race, class, politics, and education in recent memory. Taking its name from a line in a Langston Hughes poem that tellingly begins with "America never was," America to Me documents an academic year at Oak Park and River Forest High School, a self-consciously "progressive" school in a Chicago suburb. Over 10 episodes, James offers a nuanced look at the failures of integration; the vast institutional roadblocks, biased against people of color, that individual students must navigate, often with little help; the hypocritical performative liberalism of many white parents, teachers, and students; and the genuine heroism of those fighting for meaningful change. James is a master of finding compelling individuals through whom he can tell big-picture stories -- vignettes focusing on Oak Park's various sports teams are particularly illuminating -- and it doesn't seem like a stretch to predict that America to Me will prove to be one of the best encapsulations of what the United States was like in 2018. -- Anthony Schneck

a.p. bio

A.P. Bio (NBC)

When Harvard philosophy professor Jack Griffin (Glenn Howerton) loses his job to an academic rival, he takes a gig at a public high school in Toledo. He's given an A.P. biology class full of awkward, adolescent (and some very horny) overachievers who would be any other teacher's dream, as they actually want to learn. But rather than teaching them, he uses the kids in a multi-tiered plan to get back at his Ivy League nemesis, which leads to a lot of hilarious (and often dark) bits. Coming from Saturday Night Live alum Mike O'Brien and produced by Seth Meyers, Lorne Michaels, and others, the series boasts a handful of genuinely funny moments and a great cast, including Patton Oswalt as the school principal and longtime SNL writer Paula Pell as the office administrator. The gimmicky premise is mostly played out by the end of the first season's 13 episodes (Season 2 is set for 2019), but Mr. Griffin's burgeoning relationships with each of his weird students is what makes the show worth watching. -- Sadie Bell

flint town

Flint Town (Netflix)

In 2016, a documentary crew embedded itself in Flint's police department and provided a glimpse into the personal and professional lives of the troubled Michigan city's officers as they faced down a water crisis, administrative shake-ups, and a presidential election. Occasionally, the eight-episode series widens its scope to include figures from the city government, the media, and other parts of civic life. It's not an easy task. The intimate footage the filmmakers captured and the revealing interviews they conducted attempt to grapple with large ideas about contemporary American that go unremarked upon on your average network cop drama or your local police blotter. Ambitious and unwieldy, the show is not without its own flaws and blind spots, but the episodic structure and the length allows Flint Town to dig deep into topics that are too often given a surface read. -- Dan Jackson

Amazon Studios

Forever (Amazon Prime)

When the first promo for Amazon's Forever came out, something was missing. That something, namely, was any semblance of a plot. All the eight-episode series seemed to be about was that Fred Armisen and Maya Rudolph were playing a married couple who had reached a familiar stagnation. And when it finally debuted, the series was, in a way, just that -- but it was also so much more. Now, stop reading if you don't want spoilers, but quickly Forever turns into an exploration of the afterlife and what paradise looks like for different people. For Oscar (Armisen), it's living in exactly the same way with his wife June (Rudolph) by his side. For June, there's a longing for something more. The first season, which sets some of the universe's ground rules, feels like just an appetizer for what's to come, but it's intriguing nonetheless. -- EZ

the good fight

Calling a spin-off of the very famous 2009-2016 CBS legal drama The Good Wife overlooked might sound like a reach. But that's bound to be said of any show available exclusively on the weirdly expensive CBS All Access app in the era of "Good" shows (that is, the many shows with "good" in their title -- The Good Place, The Good Doctor, The Good Cop, etc.). What separates The Good Fight from the herd and makes it worth ponying up for is its ensemble cast, led by Christine Baranski (as Diane Lockhart, who, along with Julianna Margulies' Alicia Florrick and Matt Czuchry's Cary Agos, is one of only three characters to have appeared in every episode of The Good Wife) and Delroy Lindo, and its surprisingly affecting storylines. This year's nearly flawless Season 2 combined solidly entertaining legal investigations with zeitgeisty interpersonal drama, such as an aggressive ICE deportation attempt and a case involving the pee tape, that exacerbates Diane's sense that she is being personally trolled by a certain blowhard politician, a feeling she attempts to medicate, naturally, by microdosing. -- John Sellers


Hilda (Netflix)

Is Netflix's Hilda meant for children? Technically yes, but in the same way that many of the best cartoons of the past decade, like Adventure Time, Steven Universe, and Over the Garden Wall, all are. The series, based on part of the Eisner Award-nominated comics by Luke Pearson, appeals to a multi-generational audience who gravitate to its marbling of humor and emotional depth as Hilda, her mother Johanna, and her incredibly cute deerfox Twig adjust to city life after their pastoral mountain cottage was accidentally razed by the unpredictable hazards of dwelling in solitude in a magical, whimsical Scandinavian-type forest. Hilda, in particular, has trouble with the change in pace at first, having grown up forming relationships with strange, fantastical woodland creatures -- like a rickety wooden guy who delivers... wood, and a society of small, invisible elves who are fond of bureaucracy and, especially, paperwork. It's maybe the twee-est cartoon of the year, yet despite a blip when the Grimes-written theme song emerged online, the hype, sadly, never seemed to swell into a real wave. -- Leanne Butkovic

click to play video
Adult Swim/YouTube

Joe Pera, a Buffalo-born stand-up comedian known for his grandfatherly demeanor, wants to make sense of the world for you. At least, that's the initial premise of this joyfully strange comedy show, which aired on Adult Swim earlier this year. What ends up happening in a typical episode is Pera, playing a version of himself who lives in Michigan and teaches music at an elementary school, gets derailed from the subject at hand (iron, breakfast, long fall drives) and gets lost in a discursive tangent. Or he gets interrupted by the show's eccentric locals. In the best episode of the series, "Joe Pera Reads You the Church Announcements," Pera is simply overcome with a passion for talking about a classic rock song he heard on the radio. The sensibility isn't that different from an off-kilter segment you might see on Late Night with Conan O'Brien back in the '00s, but the patient, fundamentally kind-hearted approach is original and the serialized plot elements give the tale a degree of emotional depth. Its digressions are surprising but always purposeful. -- DJ


Kidding (Showtime)

On the surface, a Michel Gondry and Jim Carrey reunion, in which Carrey plays a Mr. Rogers-esque character named Jeff Pickles dealing with the loss of his son, sounded like a no-brainer hit. Getting the Eternal Sunshine band back together, with Catherine Keener, Frank Langella, and Judy Greer as part of a stacked cast -- what's not to like? Well, as it turned out, creator Dave Holstein's dark comedy managed to strike a tone unlike anything else on television: Simultaneously bleak, whimsical, brutally realistic, and prone to magical thinking, Kidding is an actual emotional roller coaster. At the end of each episode, it's difficult to pick through how you actually feel, how you're supposed to feel, and how anyone else who's watching feels. It's a show that slices open Tara Lipinski's throat during an ice show accident gone wrong, depicts hand jobs in a terminal cancer unit, and gets Frank Langella high with his adolescent grandson. Carrey's playful exterior, undergirded by a sinister core, fits Mr. Pickles perfectly, and the children's show setting gives Gondry free rein to explore the far reaches of his imagination. But what makes Kidding underappreciated (and likely to remain so) is that it achieves something rare in mainstream entertainment: It makes you uncomfortable. As Mr. Pickles would sing, you can feel anything at all. Embrace it. -- AS

random acts of flyness

It felt like critics were tripping over themselves to praise HBO's Random Acts of Flyness, and yet, if you look at the ratings: No one really watched it! Which is a tragedy, even though its anti-capitalist tenor clearly couldn't care less. Sometimes hyperrealist, sometimes absurd, filmmaker Terence Nance's six-episode nonfiction-ish sketch series is as close to art as TV gets in its reflection of blackness in America. In Vulture, Angelica Jade Bastién aptly describes RAOF as "an Adult Swim posture with HBO gloss" as it glitches between infomercials starring Jon Hamm selling a goopy product to get rid of White Thoughts, iPhone-shot scenes of police brutality, and frank discussions about gender and sexual identity in the black community, among many, many other lanes. It's an unflinching, cerebral boundary-pushing experiment challenging politics, society, and culture on its own terms, and certainly, there is no other show like RAOF out there. -- LB

Adrian Rogers/Netflix

Requiem (Netflix)

This BBC series aired in the U.K. this February and hit Netflix in the States shortly after. Sadly, it never commandeered the attention that Netflix's other generational ghost story, The Haunting of Hill House, was able to. If you were a fan of that Mike Flanagan series, you'll definitely dig Requiem, about a young female cellist whose world implodes when her mother unexpectedly commits suicide. The woman connects her mother's death to the disappearance of a young girl from a small Welsh village, and travels there to uncover the mystery. That may sound like normal crime show fare, but Requiem tells the "missing girl" story with a twist: Her disappearance is of the supernatural variety, and the Welsh townspeople are part of a strange demonic cult. Lydia Wilson is excellent as our protagonist, Matilda Grey, who delves deep into the mystery – and her own family history -- as the show progresses. With just six hour-long episodes, it's a quick binge, but a haunting, lingering one. -- Lindsey Romain

the romanoffs
Amazon Studios

The Romanoffs (Amazon Prime)

Matthew Weiner's much anticipated follow-up to his near perfect Mad Men wasn't the frothy, fun exploration into why so many royal pretenders are running around that we expected. It partly is that, but more so it's a darkly mean study of the worst kind of people, the kind who lie and manipulate in their desperation to give their dull existences some impressive, esoteric meaning. The anthology series, with episodes rolling out weekly, rather than all at once like most streaming shows, isn’t for everyone, and it's made more than a few missteps in attempting to tackle timely issues (e.g., one episode revolving around false harassment accusations left more than a few viewers with a sour taste in their mouths), but if you're ever in the mood to watch some stylish, horrible rich people make utter fools of themselves in court juries, on the sets of bad TV shows, and onboard a ridiculously ostentatious Russian Empire-themed cruise, this one's for you. -- Emma Stefansky

sorry for your loss
Facebook Watch

Sorry for Your Loss (Facebook Watch)

Who would have thought that Facebook could turn out such a high-quality series? It helped that they nabbed Elizabeth Olsen for the lead role, but she's just one cog in this excellent, well-oiled, ten-episode machine. Creator Kit Steinkellner was originally a playwright, which is very evident in the profound character work she weaves into Sorry for Your Loss, about a young widow who is forced to refocus her life after the abrupt death of her husband. What starts as a simple meditation on grief expands into a wide-scope story about loss in its many forms, and how families live and deal with the absence of a loved one long-term. Olsen is fantastic as Leigh, but the whole cast is strong and receive compelling arcs of their own. Star Wars: Episode VIII — The Last Jedi's Kelly Marie Tran is a standout as Leigh's sister, a recovering alcoholic navigating her own life after years of shameful using, as is Jovan Adepo as Leigh's brother-in-law, who is grappling with the loss of his only brother. The breadth of human emotion Sorry for Your Loss is able to explore with such a narrow-seeming premise is really exquisite. It's a profound, beautiful show that deserves way more love than it found this year. -- LR

terrace house

Terrace House: Opening New Doors (Netflix)

Finally, in 2018, American audiences caught the scent of the Japanese neo-anti-no-wave-reality TV show Terrace House, where drama is typically little to nonexistent among its six beautiful, mostly heteronormative house members living in an even more beautiful home while being intermittently scrutinized by a panel watching the action along with us. Opening New Doors, the third Terrace House produced by Netflix, has brought together the most compelling group thus far with the show's built-in turnover -- a pro snowboarder with a cool streetwear brand, a young wannabe chef who sucks at cooking, a female hockey player and male model that develop a storybook romance, the inimitable Terrace House three-timer Seina, the first gender- and sexually-fluid of Terrace House -- but also brought about the most controversial moment of the series that spotlights the cultural divide around consent. With another season (and more) imminent, there's still time to catch up with the Karuizawa crew so that you, too, can call yourself a member of the Terrace House bandwagon. -- LB


Vida (Starz)

Vida faced one fatal hurdle as a categorically bingeable prestige TV series: It aired on Starz. Though the paywall surely kept out plenty of people who would have seen and loved Vida, still, the six, 30-minute episode Season 1 was a rightful critical darling, following the week of fallout from the death of Vidalia Hernandez, who was mostly estranged from her two daughters, Emma (Mishel Prada) and Lyn (Melissa Barrera) and had not-so-secretly married a woman during their time apart. It's an east Los Angeles gentrification tale -- Vidalia owned a building and bar that's being eyed by hawkish developers -- inextricably tied to Latinx and queer identity as Emma and Lyn uncover pieces of their mother's life. Available for season purchase on Amazon, it's absolutely worth throwing down a few bucks. It's tragic, ending on a sober cliffhanger, but also hilarious and sexy, featuring probably the only theatrical depiction of ass eating in all of television (take that, Game of Thrones!). -- LB


YOU (Lifetime/Netflix)

Lifetime's YOU, the twisty, turny, melodramatic stalker show that stars Penn Badgley in the role he was created for, is fully aware that it would be classified by broader audiences as a guilty pleasure. The series, based on Caroline Kepnes' novel, follows a determined softboy with an airtight, climate-controlled basement book storage unit/jail cell who becomes dangerously infatuated with a nice, all-American gal (Dead of Summer's Elizabeth Lail) who has the misfortune to walk into his used bookstore one day. What's most chilling about YOU (besides its very, very bad ending, be warned -- although it's not bad enough to negate the fun you'll have watching the first nine episodes) is how easily our protagonist justifies his creepy, manipulative, and downright frightening actions to himself in the spirit of his own selfish altruism. If you haven't seen it yet, now is the perfect time: YOU is best when binged alone with some hot cocoa in a cozy apartment, phone on safe mode, and all the doors and windows tightly locked. And even better news is that after the cliffhanger ending left the show's future in doubt, Netflix swept in to acquire it and make it part of the streaming giant's stable of original shows. Get hyped for YOU Season 2. -- ES

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