×
Home TV TV Lists

Left of the Dial: 10 Great TV Shows You’ve Never Heard Of

From Amish tough guys to naked reality TV, these are the shows deep in the basic-cable-and-beyond jungle that you need to be watching

ph

Amish Mafia and Swamp Murders

Jason Elias/Discover; Investigation Discovery

With the recent plethora of great prestige television, even the most obsessive viewer could be forgiven for not tuning into everything. There are noted corners of the televerse where brilliant, well-written and expertly-acted shows go unwatched, despite universal acknowledgment that we all should be watching neglected gems like The Americans and Masters of Sex.

But for every great series that launches a thousand pleading think pieces, there are five like it that don't get weekly wrap-ups and clever ad campaigns. Whether it's because they're on at odd hours, they're mid-season replacements, they've just been overshadowed on their respective networks by splashier shows, or they're simply too wacky or avant-garde for primetime, the nuggets in this mixed bag surely must appeal to someone – they just haven't found their legion of fans yet. We've compiled 10 examples of weird, under-the-radar and awesome-in-their-own-way series that you've almost assuredly never heard of but should definitely be tuning into.

And if you've already discovered and dug deep into these demented-to-deliriously-good treasures nestled way down the cable dial (and in one case, via an online streaming service), congratulations: we salute your pioneering spirit.

(Disclaimer: All shows listed had a 2014 season, either earlier this year or currently airing, and have been renewed or left open-ended regarding subsequent future seasons. None of them have been cancelled at the time of writing.)

ph

‘Amish Mafia’ (Discovery)

Out of these five Amish-themed TV shows, guess which one is fake: Breaking Amish; Sister Wives; Amish Mafia; Amish in the City; Vanilla Ice Goes Amish. If you guessed any of them, you're wrong. They're all honest-to-god shows, and Amish Mafia is the one with the strangest premise by far – and yes, that includes Vanilla Ice's surrealist DIY Network project in which he "learns the lost art of hand craftsmanship." This Discovery Channel series follows the self-proclaimed protector of the Lancaster, Pennsylvania's Amish people Lebanon Levi and his assistants; the show has rightfully come under fire for its portrayal of the community (are there really a lot of threat-wielding Mennonite MMA fighters?) and Levi has been arrested multiple times for drunk driving. It's been renewed for a fourth season, but even if this isn't the Amish series you reward with your viewership, you should jump on this TV trend's horse-and-buggy bandwagon now.

ph

‘Banshee’ (Cinemax)

Interestingly, the plot of this Cinemax drama bisects the topics of both the Amish and the mafia – with completely different results than Amish Mafia. (The odds of that being the case are pretty remarkable.) Renewed for a third season earlier this year, it's a story about an ex-con who takes the identity of a dead sheriff and hides out from a crime boss in Amish country, all the while fighting (but also committing) crime and trying to win back the heart of the woman he scorned while in prison. Banshee is the name of the small town, and the show is action-packed in the way that prestige TV gets to be, while also shining a light on communities that rarely get attention. Plus, again, its lack of similarities to Amish Mafia are just crazy impressive.

ph

‘Buying Naked’ (TLC)

TV executives are slowly realizing that people will watch other humans engage in almost any kind of mundane activity — as long as said humans are naked. It is conceivably with that in mind that TLC greenlighted this show that encompasses everything you love about competitive real-estate reality shows (Million-Dollar Listing; Flipping Out; Flip That House) and sets it in Pasco County, Florida, a.k.a. the "Nudist Capital of the World." Our guide is Jackie Youngblood, the savvy, excessively Southern listing agent who leads viewers through a land of single-family homes and swinging genitalia. Like her televised real-estate agent forebears, she's quippy as hell, but she's got the added benefit of being surprisingly cool about the overwhelming level of nakedness around her (she stays clothed, but doesn't blink at the fact that she's the only one who does). Viewers also learn fun nudist facts via pop-up trivia bubbles ("Nudists greet with handshakes. Hugging is not recommended."), but mostly, you should stay for insightful Jackie-isms. "Nudists don't wear clothes," she quips. "However, when it comes to money, they have deep pockets."

ph

‘Human Resources’ (Pivot)

The Pivot channel may still be in its infancy, but it's already got an impressive batting record — like, for example, this reality show about TerraCycle, an environmentally-minded company located in Trenton, New Jersey. As one of the purported "fastest growing green companies in the world," TerraCycle and the nerdily sardonic geniuses that work there have the goal to eliminating all waste by recycling and upcycling the traditionally non-recyclable (everything from food wrappers to cigarette butts). The show follows around TerraCycle's employees – led by their eccentric boss, Tom Szaky – and falls somewhere between a self-aware workplace comedy and an environmentalist's wet dream that somehow never ventures into preachiness.

ph

‘Jungle Gold’ (Discovery)

The nature-doc days of the Discovery Channel of yore may be long over, but their badassery lives on in this real-life series that explores the lives of two Americans, George Wright and Scott Lomo. The duo are old friends who lost their money when the market crashed; naturally, they decided to leave their families behind and try their hand at gold-mining in Ghana. Sure, why not. Now airing its second season, the show gets a little too real as the men face threats from extortionate landowners, guerrilla militias and treacherous terrain – and that's before they ever set foot in a mine. It's reliably rugged and occasionally illuminating, even if the basic premise (two white Americans seek mineral wealth in Africa for their own personal profit) seems obviously problematic.

ph

‘Rectify’ (SundanceTV)

This list is filled with oddball offerings you probably didn't even knew existed; SundanceTV's drama about an ex-con, however, may actually be the best show you've never heard of. Aden Young stars as Dan Holden, a man put on death row as a teenager for the rape and murder of his girlfriend. Thanks to new DNA evidence, he's exonerated 19 years later, and Rectify follows his attempts to readjust to normal civilian life, with very mixed results. Yes, there's an evil sheriff who will stop at nothing to see him rotting on death row again. Yes, there's a stepfather he never got to know because his father died while he was locked up. And yes, he has friends on the inside who get executed. Consider it a mash-up of legal and family dramas with a heavy dose of Southern Gothic ambiance. The show wrapped up its second season at the end of August and a third has been ordered for next year. We can't wait.

ph

‘Review with Forrest MacNeil’ (Comedy Central)

Andy Daly is the eponymous Forrest in this mockumentary-sitcom about a curious and polite critic who, rather than reviewing books or film, focuses his energy on real-world experiences. The first season had him review "getting a divorce," "being a racist person," and "getting rich quick," all with absurdist, occasionally heartwarming, results. Based on an Australian show of the same name, Review has likely been picked up for a second season, though an air date has yet to be announced.

ph

‘Shark Girl’ (Smithsonian Channel)

Because "Shark Week" has become an embarrassment, the Smithsonian Channel steeped up to fill the void with this documentary series about 20-year-old Madison Stewart, an Australian who has dedicated herself to the preservation of sharks ever since she was a youngster. She sits in the middle of feeding frenzies, she removes fish hooks from their mouths and she challenges the perception of sharks as vicious killers – a goal that "Shark Week" seems to have given up on in lieu of mockumentaries on Megashark. Stewart is a brilliant and brave host, and maybe even a little batshit; her constant proximity to death easily makes this one of the most riveting educational series on TV.

ph

‘Swamp Murders’ (Investigation Discovery)

If you share any similarities with the demographic known as "practically everyone," you enjoyed True Detective. And if you particularly liked that show's grisly murders and mise-en-scene, you'll want to kiss the geniuses at Investigation Discovery on the mouth for this nugget of market-research gold. Swamp Murders has the basic narrative of all the channel's true-crime shows, but with more brackish water and the knowledge that there's something primally terrifying about a swamp's bottomless murk. The show is so setting-specific that it can't help but occasionally wink at viewers with a "you know you love it" self-awareness – which is fine, because we do.

ph

‘The Wrong Mans’ (BBC/Hulu)

Beloved British cult actor James Corden (soon to be taking over Craig Ferguson's spot on The Late, Late Show and known by a separate group of fans as Craig from Doctor Who) teamed up with Matthew Baynton to write and star in this BBC/Hulu joint production. The duo star as Phil Bourne and Sam Pinkett, respectively – a couple of complacent bros who toil away in cubicles at the Berkshire County Council. Then Pinkett picks up a ringing phone at the scene of a car accident, and suddenly, the gents turn into the action heroes they never thought they could be (because they probably aren't). Corden could create charming chemistry with a shoebox, much less a partner like Baynton, and the show is surprisingly action-packed without taking the characters too seriously or belittling them. The first season only had six episodes, but earlier this year Corden announced that they were at work on a commissioned second series to be released at a later date.

Show Comments