All week long here on Vulture, we’ve been saluting some of the best and most significant shows, performances, and moments from the past year of television. But not every show can be a banner hit. There are some gems that seem to slip through the cracks, somehow not garnering the attention, adulation, or audience they deserve. Here are the ten best shows you might have missed this season.
Being Mary Jane, BET
In the era of prestige drama — and as often as not, "prestige" drama — we sometimes lose sight of the scintillating joys of the prime-time soap. BMJ stars Gabrielle Union as a successful, glamorous news anchor whose personal and family life is a mess; her boyfriend is married, her folks are kind of crummy, her brother's sobriety is in question, etc. If it's occasionally formulaic, so be it. It can also be gutsy and sexy and the right amount bonkers. (She saves a guy's sperm in her regular freezer in her kitchen. The guy doesn't know. Not okay in many ways!) There's an inclination to compare Mary Jane to Scandal's Olivia Pope — there aren't a lot of shows with black female leads, plus both characters are stylish, enmeshed in adulterous love triangles, and oenophiles. But the more apt comparison for Mary Jane might be Melrose Place's Amanda Woodward: brilliant but a little dangerous, loyal to those on the inside but a seeming villain to those on the outside. If the second season continues the first's upward trajectory, we're in for an exquisitely costumed melodramatic treat.
Trophy Wife, ABC
It's hard to know what's worse: ABC's inability to title shows (see also: Cougar Town) or its baffling refusal to air Trophy Wife in the Modern Family block. Whichever it was, somehow this darling, hilarious series was doomed. R.I.P., Trophy Wife.
Speaking of wonderful but doomed comedies, R.I.P. also to Enlisted, a show Fox inexplicably squandered. Both Trophy and Enlisted took a not-funny-on-its-face setup (a third marriage; an army base) and populated those worlds with unusually funny and delightful characters. They're also both shows about characters who love one another, giving the world a welcome respite from scream-focused CBS sitcoms about people who hate each other. Brooklyn 99 became Fox's comedy darling this season, but Enlisted has twice that show's heart, not to mention twice the jokes.
The Returned, Sundance
French ghosts! Who doesn't love a French ghost? The Returned, a French import, is set in a small town where one day its dead former residents start reappearing, having no idea that they've died. A teen girl who died in a bus crash years ago shows up at her house, stunned to discover that her twin has aged. A sexy biker dude who died on his way to his wedding can't believe he has a daughter he never got to meet. The show swirls back and forth between intensely realistic emotion-driven moments and a darkly dreamy what-if atmosphere: What if the people we'd been grieving for actually came back? What if it wasn't how you imagined? What if something … ominous was afoot?
Sleepy Hollow, Fox
To be fair, many, many people do watch Sleepy Hollow. But a lot more could and should be — it's a show that's a hit when it could be a phenomenon. Sleepy sounds like the dumbest crapfest in the world: Revolutionary War soldier Ichabod Crane wakes up to find himself in present-day Westchester, where the headless horseman turns out to be one of the horsemen of the apocalypse, and there are witches and spells and George Washington's Bible and demons and inpatient mental-health facilities, and also it's a buddy-cop show. I know, it's ridiculous. But Sleepy gets exactly how a supernatural action series should operate. It's self-aware and witty when it needs to be, quick-paced, and explosion-heavy now and then, and every character has a strong identity, a reason they really care. "Fun" isn't a vice.
Nurse Jackie, Showtime
For years, Nurse Jackie felt like two shows sloppily stitched together: One was a powerfully gripping addiction and family drama, and the other was a baffling slapstick comedy set in a hospital filled with mostly terrible characters. (Except for Zoe and Thor. They are great.) In its sixth season, though, Jackie has ditched most of the hospital nonsense — she still works there, but O'Hara's gone, Akalitus is finally sane and relevant, and Coop's story lines have never been less annoying. At the same time, the show has doubled down on how intense Jackie's addiction and recovery stories are, as she relapses, picks fights with her wonderful cop boyfriend, Frank, watches helplessly as her daughter, Grace, continues to rebel, and finds — and ditches — a new sponsor. This is by far the best Jackie has ever been, and it's one of the better seasons of TV period in recent years. If you fell off the Jackie wagon, hop back on.
Elsewhere in the addiction-story universe is Mom, a Chuck Lorre comedy that manages not to be the things some of us hate about other Chuck Lorre comedies. It's not hateful, it's not misogynistic, and it's not predictable. Instead, Mom's a show about big, big feelings. Anna Faris stars as Christy, a recovering alcoholic and single mom; Allison Janney plays Faris's formerly party-hearty mother Bonnie, who's also a recovering alcoholic. It's still very broad and bawdy, of course, but it takes its characters' struggles seriously. We see AA meeting. We see the resentment Christy still has toward Bonnie. And we see Christy's teen daughter put her baby up for adoption. And yet, it's still funny.
This one isn't a TV show, it's a web series. From AOL of all places. (Watch the whole thing here.) Sarah Jessica Parker produced and occasionally appears in segments of the twelve-episode series, which goes inside the New York City Ballet, explaining the inner workings of the company and profiling several of its members. My biggest complaint is that it's too short: I watched the whole thing twice because I was dying for more stories. Expertise and passion are almost inherently interesting, and there's a reason there are so many ballet documentaries — it's because ballet is a combination of expertise, passion, and elegance.
Playing House, USA Network
Lennon Parham and Jessica St. Clair's previous show, Best Friends Forever, met a cruel, untimely death back in 2012. If there's a TV God, let's pray he or she does not let that happen to Playing House. Creators Parham and St. Clair star again as BFFs; Parham plays Maggie, the more grounded of the pair, who stayed in their hometown. St. Clair plays the less reliable Emma, who hadn't been back in years — until a very pregnant Maggie needed her. The prodigal daughter returned, hilarity ensued, and there's even the possibility of rekindling her old romance with her ex-boyfriend, Keegan-Michael Key (beyond charming in this role). A million familiar comedy faces, including John Lutz and Jason Mantzoukas in the season's best episode, "Drumline," fill out the rest of the cast.
Masters of Sex, Showtime
For a show about sex, Masters is often not all that sexy. The sex on the show is largely in a clinical setting; two subjects, with EKG wires stuck to them, have sex in a lab while Dr. Masters (Michael Sheen) and his assistant Virginia (Lizzy Caplan) stand to the side and record physiological measures. Try not to get too aroused! But when Masters removes some of the sexiness from sex itself, what's left is the sexiness of everything else. What's intimacy? What's attraction? What's love? The show's underwhelming first half might have turned some viewers off, but with season two just around the corner, you should give it another chance, if only for Allison Janney's captivating performance as a middle-aged woman finally experiencing a sexual awakening.