Reaper, Sleeper Cell
Photo: Showtime,The CW
The end of the fall TV season is typically met with some sadness: Reruns are no one’s friend, and the stunt programming is usually so awful that it’s worse than watching nothing. But crisis equals opportunity! Now that the regular season is over, your evenings are free to binge on the entire run of those late, lamented shows that you kept meaning to watch but never quite did. Sure, there are the usual suspects (Battlestar Galactica, Friday Night Lights, Veronica Mars) that are part of many a TV fan’s “someday” pile (get on that, pal), but there are also the shows that are no less worthy of a TV bender despite the fact that nobody’s asking for a movie version. We’ve assembled ten unsung heroes and undercover gems, the smaller and stranger short-run shows that you never quite got around to watching but that are just crying out to be plowed through over the next three or so weeks: It’s about time. All these shows are available to stream legally from various sources, and most are available on DVD, too.
Series Length: Two seasons, thirteen episodes; available on Netflix and iTunes
Especially good if you like: It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia
Pulling’s twisted sense of humor and audaciously bleak story lines put a fresh, female-centric spin on the well-worn tropes of relationship comedies, while avoiding the off-putting gaudiness that a lot of Britcoms seem to embrace. The show is hilarious, but there are a few caveats: It’s not for the dainty, it probably shouldn’t be watched with one’s parents (given that the series opens with a guy vigorously scrubbing his genitals), and anyone in a fragile romantic relationship should wait to indulge until that relationship stabilizes, because Pulling paints a very, very sad portrait of modern romance. Everyone else, though, go nuts!
Photo: John Wright/John Wright Photography / johnwrightphoto.com
Series length: One season, thirteen episodes; available on Netflix, iTunes, and Amazon
Especially good if you like: Bored to Death, Justified, Louie, or wish your USA guilty pleasures were better
Donal Logue has made a career of playing greasy-haired sad sacks, but Hank Dolworth may have been his finest creation: miserable, hilarious, comfortably sleazy. Terriers, about a private eye and his best bud, combines some procedural storytelling with an enviably paced season-long arc and character chemistry like you wouldn’t believe. Oof, what a terrific show.
Series length: Two seasons, 31 episodes; available on Netflix, Amazon, iTunes, and Hulu Plus
Especially good if you like: Once Upon a Time, Chuck, or Castle
Sam’s 21st birthday is a doozy: Not only is he trying to come to terms with the fact that he’s pissing his life away at a dead-end job and that the girl he loves barely notices him, but he also finds out that his parents sold his soul to the devil, and now he has to work as a “reaper.” There’s a Buffy-like quality to the monster-of-the-week setups, but it’s way more lighthearted and goofy than broody or romantic.
Photo: Digital Fusion/DigitalFusion
Series length: Two seasons, 29 episodes; available on Hulu, iTunes, Fancast, Netflix, and Amazon
Especially good if you like: Community, Grey’s Anatomy, or Homeland
Georgia “George” Lass was a surly, sarcastic teenager, right up until the moment she died in a freak accident. Now she’s a surly, sarcastic grim reaper, part of a quirky ensemble headed up by the fatherly Rube (Mandy Patinkin). Dead quietly exposes the tragedy of every coming-of-age story by acknowledging that adulthood involves grieving one’s youth just a little bit, but the show itself isn’t just the last part of Our Town over and over: There’s a punchy humor to it, too, that keeps it from being hugely depressing.
Series length: Two seasons, eighteen episodes; available on Netflix, iTunes, Amazon, and Amazon Prime
Especially good if you like: Homeland
Showtime’s little-watched terrorism thriller would be a hit today, but everyone’s eyes were strictly on HBO back in 2005. The show follows an undercover FBI agent as he infiltrates a terrorist cell in California, but it avoids the obnoxious jingoism of 24 and instead takes a much richer, more frightening approach.
Photo: ?Showtime 2006
Series length: One season, thirteen episodes; available on Netflix, Amazon, and iTunes
Especially good if you like: Dexter or Suburgatory
The show barely made a blip in 2006, but the Jeremy Sisto–led serial drama about a rich teenager’s disappearance is secretly fantastic. The show is the anti-procedural, following a single case its entire season, and yet it never gets boring — the last three episodes in particular are full of the kinds of plot twists and surprises that make TV interesting. Are you listening, The Killing?
Photo: FOR EDITORIAL USE ONLY – DO NOT RESELL/DO NOT ARCHIVE
Series length: Two seasons, 26 episodes; available on Netflix, Amazon, Amazon Prime, and iTunes
Especially good if you like: Archer and 30 Rock
Another entry in the “brilliant but canceled” time capsule, Ted turns its contemporary screwball lens on satire’s richest target: big business and the bullshit corporate-speak that goes along with it. Original and weird, edgy but with a heart, plus Portia de Rossi plays an icy executive with a delicious mean streak? What more do you want, America?
Series length: Two seasons, 26 episodes; available on Netflix, Hulu, Amazon, and iTunes
Especially good if you like: Glee, The Mentalist
“Whimsical lawyer show” hasn’t been a winning tagline since Ally McBeal, but Eli Stone sure did try. Jonny Lee Miller stars as the titular Eli, a powerful lawyer who develops a life-threatening aneurysm that causes detailed, often wonderful, and sometimes prophetic hallucinations (frequently in the form of musical numbers) that become woven in with a pretty straight-forward legal procedural. Eli bit off a little more than it could chew — Religion! Lawyers! Doctors! Disease! Surrealism! — but there’s a charming show amid the chaos.
Series length: Two seasons, twenty episodes; available on Netflix, Amazon, Amazon Prime, and iTunes
Especially good if you like: Justified and Mad Men
No current show paints quite as brutal a portrait of the American Dream as The Riches, the short-lived but provocative, absorbing drama about a family of grifters who grift themselves right into suburbia. The show effectively pokes holes in all the cultural myths we buy into about upward mobility, but it’s not cynical so much as it is critical. Eddie Izard and Minnie Driver play the parents, and their loving but complicated relationship gives the show an emotional credibility that keeps it from seeming hectoring.
Series length: One season, thirteen episodes; available on Hulu, Amazon, and iTunes
Especially good if you like: Game of Thrones
Talk about ambitious. Kings is the deeply flawed attempt to create an epic for NBC that combined Biblical themes with modern politics and outlandish, soapy drama. It … failed, but what a glorious failure it is: Come for Ian McShane as the king of all he sees, stay for the flowery dialogue that we still can’t believe ever made it to network TV.
Photo: Andrew Eccles/? NBC Universal, Inc – FOR EDITORIAL USE ONLY – DO NOT ARCHIVE – NOT FOR RESALE