Yes, we know: It’s impossible these days to keep up with all the great television that keeps piling up on your DVR. But maybe that’s a feature, not a bug. If nothing else, “Peak TV” allows the freedom to zag while everyone else is zigging. Bored by the dreary, over-serious drama that’s drawing raves? Haven’t laughed once at the latest edgy, arty sitcom? In 2018, you’ve got options, including true-crime procedurals, deep-cut superhero dramas, intriguing spinoffs and a some quality shows that aren’t getting the attention, the audience or the accolades that they deserve. Check out what we’re calling “The Great Unwatched”: 10 strong shows from the first half of this year that have yet to command the attention they deserve from the tastemakers. Give them a try and get ahead of the curve.
Picture a west coast Broad City, with a immature fashion victim named Ester (Ester Povitsky) and her snarky best friend Benji (Benji Aflalo) creatively slacking their way through glamorous L.A.. The barbed joke at the center of this comedy is that even these two educated, affable, privileged youngsters are having a tough time surviving in a society that’s never bothered to teach them how to accomplish basic tasks. But at least they’re as hilarious as they are hapless.
For decades, Black Lightning was a half-forgotten remnant of DC Comics’ awkward 1970s stab at social relevance. Now he’s the star attraction in the CW’s best current superhero series – and remember, this is the network that airs The Flash, Supergirl and Legends of Tomorrow. Show-runner Salim Akil and his producing partner Mara Brock Akil combine the grimy cool of crime movies like Shaft and Serpico with ripped-from-today’s-headlines stories about drug abuse and racial identity. Plus leading man Cress Williams has incredible gravitas – even when he’s wearing a neon-accented costume and shooting electric bolts out of his hands.
Another semi-obscure comic book inspires a surprisingly special TV show. In the 1980s, Marvel introduced the junior super-team of Cloak (who has the power to teleport people via a shadow dimension) and Dagger (who can fire off sharp shards of light). Now the duo’s found a home on Freeform, a channel specializing in complicated youngsters. This series makes great use of its funky New Orleans locale, while showing a keen understanding of the symbiotic relationship between its heroes. One’s black and one’s white; one’s middle-class and one’s poor. They, like all of us, need each other.
Although the first season of Netflix’s scalpel-sharp social satire was superb, it
was more or less an extended TV version of writer-director Justin
Simien’s 2014 movie regarding politically active
African-American students at a mostly white Ivy League university. But in
year two, the show has widened its scope and deepened its voice, jumping into the growing off-campus controversies over free speech and
institutional racism – all without forgetting to be stylish and funny. Why this is not generating more critical mash notes is, frankly, befuddling.
Veteran TV writer Marti Noxon has worked on the likes of Buffy the
Vampire Slayer, Mad Men and UnREAL, but her adaptation of Sarai
Walker’s novel may end up being what she’s best remembered for.
Like the book, the TV series savagely satirizes the weight-loss and
teen fashion magazine industries, via a sprawling and fantastical tale
about an insecure advice columnist (beautifully played by Joy Nash)
caught between two rival feminist cabals. This is Fight Club crossed
with The Devil Wears Prada: witty, heartbreaking and brutal.
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Picking up where The Good Wife left off, this sequel takes the reliably
gripping, tried-and-true courtroom drama format and uses it to put
contemporary sociopolitical issues on trial. Smart, energetic and
freakishly up-to-date, the scabrous drama’s second season has seen its
underdog Chicago lawyers tackling immigration, sexual harassment, fake
news and even Trump’s alleged “pee tape.” It’s a show about how
we live right now – and about the people trying to make the most of
whatever power’s left in our rickety civic institutions.
On Black-ish, Yara Shahidi’s character Zoey Johnson often comes off as just another aloof millennial, hep to things her
parents will never get. But both the character and the actor who plays her show remarkable range and
depth on this spinoff sitcom about modern college life – one that’s also
refreshingly honest and non-judgmental about everything from “safe
spaces” to students using study-aid drugs. Here’s the perspective on “these kids today” that you need.
Yes, Merchant-Ivory-Jhabvala’s 1992 Oscar-winning film is a classic and damned near impossible to improve. But this four-hour miniseries – adapted
by screenwriter Kenneth Lonergan and director Hettie Macdonald – is
great in its own way, starting with Hayley Atwell’s utterly charming,
empathetic performance the progressive spinster Margaret Shlegel. The TV version includes more
fine detail from E.M. Forster’s 1910 novel; it’s also more ruthless in its
depiction of well-meaning rich folks treating the working-class as
either a novelty or inconvenience. Which, you know, thank god that’s no longer an issue, right?
True-crime docudramas have been arriving in waves ever since the
Emmy-winning success of American Crime Story: The People v. O.J.
Simpson. But few are arguably as ambitious as USA’s addition to the fold, which weaves between
three timelines to tell a disturbing story about celebrity, corruption and gangsta-rap beefs. A star-studded cast (which includes
Wendell Pierce, Bokeem Woodbine, Jimmi Simpson and Josh Duhamel)
carries an intricate narrative that explains how talented friends became
bitter enemies, and how two separate LAPD investigations were scotched
before they could reveal troubling secrets.
Formerly known as Spike, the recently rebranded Paramount Network roared
out of the gate earlier this year with this masterfully acted six-hour
miniseries. Taylor Kitsch is the infamous Christian cult leader David
Koresh; Michael Shannon is the conscientious FBI crisis negotiator
trying to keep an armed standoff from becoming a bloodbath. A throwback
to the Seventies/Eighties heyday of the “multi-night TV event,” Waco is an
absorbing, even-handed look at what increasingly seems like a pivotal
moment in the history of American governmental power – and its many forms