It is hard to find good TV programs these days, what with remakes, reality TV, and dreadful writing. But all is not lost. This list looks at ten really great recent television programs that have one purpose in mind: to provide you with a few hours of offbeat enjoyment.
This is TV at its finest: good stories, good acting, cliffhangers, and new ideas. While Hollywood and its ilk are busy focussing on an endless outpouring of politically-corrected or social-justice-oriented remakes, the creators of the shows on this list have sought out fresh ideas and novel approaches to TV making. And perhaps best of all, none of these shows are pushing an agenda!
We have hand-picked this list not just for being the best of what is being made now, but also those shows that will appeal to Listverse readers. Being historically interesting, creepy, unusual, or off the wall are factors that unite all of these great programs. Most of the entries here are for mature audiences and this list may container a spoiler or two.
10 Bates Motel
This is one of the older entries on the list but it does deserve a mention as it is ongoing and is actually surprisingly good. At first I thought the premise wouldn’t work given how iconic and brilliant Psycho was, but I was pleasantly surprised. There is some great acting from Vera Farmiga as Norman’s mom whom you want to love but also need to hate. It’s a tough role but she does well.
For those unfamiliar with the show, it is a TV series based on the early life of Norman Bates (of Psycho fame) and his mother as they run the motel that would later gain movie infamy as the site of one of the great scenes in horror history—the shower scene! The show can be a tad slow at times, but it does manage to keep you interested and wanting more, so it scores a ten on this list.
This show follows the fortunes of a small group of tough London cops who find themselves on the trail of a Jack The Ripper copycat killer. It is full of historically interesting facts about the original ripper and, typical for a British program, has some pleasantly quirky characters: not the least of whom is the main officer who suffers from obsessive compulsive disorder. The popularity of the show has meant that they have created four seasons, with each season focussing on a different type of crime. This is definitely a must-see program for those who enjoy crime thrillers and British television. Granted this one is not too cerebral, but if you love history (particularly criminal history) you’ll probably enjoy this show a lot.
At the very least you will leave the show with a greater knowledge of some of the famous London crimes (particularly those around the seedier part of town: Whitechapel). During the series I found myself frequently looking up names or places mentioned to learn more about them, so it is a great starting point for developing your knowledge of the dark side of man.
8 X Files Reboot
As soon as I bought my first cellphone that supported custom ringtones, I added the X Files theme. This show, and my love for it in my younger days, played a big role in the early years of Listverse as it inspired me in much of my writing. For those of you who haven’t seen the original series, you really should watch it before you watch the reboot, though it isn’t strictly necessary.
In the reboot we follow a noticeably older Mulder and a dramatically thinner (and surprisingly rather youthful—albeit thanks to plastic surgery) Scully, two FBI agents who hunt out aliens, conspiracies, and all things bizarre. Decades on, we learn they had a child together and ultimately parted ways . . . until now. The reboot is every bit as good as the first two (and best) seasons of the original series but now we get the joy of seeing all the hilarious in-jokes that are only possible due to time passing. X-Philes will be satisfied, but so will new audiences.
7 Stranger Things
I really wanted to put this in at position ten, but the show is crazily popular so I have gone against my best judgement and given it a higher rank. I don’t really get why this show has garnered such a popular following . . . perhaps it is the great unique music score . . . perhaps it is the current popularity of 1980s retro . . . or perhaps it is because it is just plain different!
The show’s premise is that the government is conducting secret experiments in the supernatural and paranormal using human test subjects. But soon their experiments begin to leak out and impact the lives of the residents of the nearby small town. An older and less thiefy Winona Ryder features as the mother, which is a bit of a shock for those of us who grew up in the 1980s and know her mostly as a teen character, but she does a great job. It’s definitely not my favorite here, but the show is pretty much a must-see for lovers of this genre.
6 Mr Robot
It is incredibly rare for mainstream entertainment to accurately represent the tricks and tools of hackers, and while Mr Robot does have its fair share of cringey moments, it does a much better job than most. In fact I would even go so far as to say that many a young 4Chan autist will see himself echoed in the main character.
The story follows the psychologically troubled IT-guy cum “hacker”, Elliot Alderson, who is recruited by an anarchist known as Mr Robot to help him take down a huge multi-national corporation and erase all human debt. In a way I guess this is a bit of a futuristic Robin Hood type story and it’s actually really good. It has won numerous Emmy awards and even a Peabody Award . . . though perhaps that isn’t saying much as Hollywood awards don’t have much credibility these days.
Anyway, If you like atmospheric and edgy TV, or want to see the world crash and burn, this is the show for you.
5 Black Mirror
Black mirror is to TV today as The Twilight Zone was to TV in the 1960s. Each episode of this science-fiction type show looks at aspects of modern life but throws in a very dark twist. From social media to gaming, every part of our daily lives is exposed for the horror that could truly be lying in wait for us if we don’t wake up, smell the roses, and start interacting with our fellow man once again.
If you want to know what happens when our lives are ruled by technology, look no further than Black Mirror. From the dangers of social-media to the madness of futuristic gaming, it really does have something for everyone. It is essential viewing for anyone that spends time on the internet: AKA you!
4 Hotel Beau Séjour
Taking time out from creating some bizarre social justice steeped content, Netflix has managed to release a few good shows recently. This is one of them. It’s not often that a program entirely in Flemish is so popular with English speaking audiences . . . in fact this is probably a first!
But don’t be put off by the subtitles. This is a brilliantly conceived program that follows the investigation of the murder of young Kato in the small Belgian town of Limburg. But there is a twist—in fact a very big twist: the opening scene of the film has the main character waking up to find her own corpse in a bath tub! You’ll love this show if you like offbeat dark supernatural mysteries.
3 American Horror Story
American Horror Story would be higher on this list if it weren’t for a couple of not so great seasons (Freak Show, and Hotel with Lady Gaga). But you absolutely must watch the first three seasons. An anthology series, each season is a totally different story in a totally different place, with the same actors playing different characters. It’s a quirky twist on a TV series and it works brilliantly.
Believe it or not American Horror Story was conceived and directed by the same guy that brought the world Glee. He has redeemed himself with American Horror Story. The first season is a ghost story, the second is a demonic tale, and the third is about witches (and features the horrifying true-life Delphine LaLaurie). Season four should have been good but it lost its way: it was based on carnival freaks—a favorite topic of mine—and season five was worse, with blood-porn spattered throughout seemingly for effect only.
Season six was based on the Roanoke Colony and season seven, coming this year, will have a connection to the Freak Show season but with a modern twist. To be honest I am almost certain the writers are regular Listverse readers because episode after episode you are confronted by characters and events depicted here long ago.
2 Twin Peaks Reboot
If you liked Twin Peaks the first time around (for those old enough to remember it!) you will be in seventh heaven with this reboot. Almost all of the characters you loved in the TV series are back with a few new faces. The story revolves around the town of Twin Peaks where a murder from 25 years ago remains in the memory of the residents. It is full of bizarre characters, atmospheric music, beautiful scenery, and that good old David Lynch craziness. If you are familiar with David Lynch’s work from movies such as Mulholland Drive and Inland Empire you will understand how weird this show can get.
In a time when Hollywood is pushing out film after film of carbon copy characters, Twin Peaks is a veritable symphony of quirky people and scenes. On the other hand, it also introduces a couple of new ideas for mainstream TV: surrealism to the extreme and some really great music from new young bands with totally original but quirky sounds.
It even features the likes of Nine Inch Nails who perform the entire track of “She’s Gone Away” in part eight (video clip from the episode above). Lynch and NIN have a history, of course, with the band creating the soundtrack for “Lost Highway.” Not many TV directors are courageous enough to include full-length music scenes in their shows.
Twenty-five years ago, Twin Peaks was one of the most popular shows on TV. The 2017 reboot was a long time coming but will definitely not leave David Lynch or Twin Peaks fans wanting. This reboot is a breath of fresh air in the stale dank environment of modern entertainment.
1 London Spy
This is one of the best spy thriller television programs to be made in recent times. It follows the story of ex-drug addict Danny and secret service agent Alex whose lives become intertwined in a web of mystery, murder, and secrets. Danny and Alex fall in love and have an extremely unconventional relationship until Alex disappears. Then things get really weird. There are gangsters, mazes, codes, secret pasts, sex dungeons, and so much more. The acting is brilliant (which is not surprising given that it features the indomitable talent of Ben Whishaw), the cinematography is eerie and dark, and the story is so twisted that you are kept constantly on the edge of your seat. If you only watch one show from this list: let it be London Spy.
Now that you are done reading, if you think there are any shows we should have included on the list, please mention them in the comments so we can all enjoy some more great entertainment.