The TV Shows I Love That You Might Never Have Heard Of
Looking for something new to watch, but sick of all the mainstream stuff? I’ve curated a bunch of shows here which I’ve enjoyed over the years.
Some of these are foreign, non-English TV shows. Some of them you may definitely have heard of as cult classics. Some of them are just downright weird, which is the kind of stuff I like — I want stories to take risks, push boundaries, and do something new — I feel like I’ve seen every iteration of every mystery show that exists at this point.
I will do my best to explain why you should watch each of these. Hopefully, there’s a bit of variety.
These are not in any particular order. There are documentaries, gameshows, and straight dramas all mixed up throughout here. And to be clear, these are not the only shows I love. These are just the ones I feel you might not have heard of before.
My first show on this list is a South Korean reality show. WAIT! Don’t scroll straight to the next item just yet. Believe me, I think reality shows are destroying TV. But you’ve not seen reality television until you’ve seen South Korea do reality television.
The Genius is a show which pits 13 South Korean leaders of their respective fields against each other to attempt to find the ultimate “genius”. Each player may be a top comedian, newscaster, esports player, singer, or politician in the real world, but inside the show they’re simply trying to survive to the end as each week, one of them is eliminated. Not only do they need to be traditionally intelligent, but they also need to be socially intelligent as well.
The central conceit is that in each episode, the entire cast have a simple game explained to them. After the rules are explained to the players, the most beautiful thing happens: “The game will begin in one hour.”
So for an hour, the players walk away and strategise. They’ll branch off to different rooms and have private discussions. Someone is going to lose the game, so you have to do everything in your power to make sure it isn’t going to be you. There’s alliances, lying, strategy, loophole-finding, bribery and backstabbing, and as long as you’re not actually cheating at the game, you’re able to do whatever you need to win.
I haven’t even said anything about the editing, which is my favourite part of the show. Typically the episode will follow one person or a group of people as they make their strategy, form their alliances and attempt to execute it. And every single time, the producers will hide information from the audience until a critical moment, where you (and the players) will suddenly be blindsided by a move someone makes, and then:
That’s right. It’s non-linear. The show will rewind back, and show everything from the other player’s perspective that led to that moment. No matter how much you think you know what’s happening, you never do. Sometimes, there’s flash-forwards. My favourite example is in the beginning of one episode, where one player states to camera “I don’t think there’s any way anyone will go against me”, and suddenly we flash-forward to him crying in a corner two hours later.
This show is the only show that’s ever had me up out of my seat screaming at the television. The twists are incredible, and the manipulation is masterful. The show’s motto is “ugly victories, beautiful defeats”, and hoo boy does it live up to its word.
And the music. God, the music. You’ll never think of Moby’s Extreme Ways the same ever again.
Format: 4 seasons, 13 episodes each, 70 minutes long.
Language: Korean, with English subtitles.
Available on: There’s a Dropbox with the first season here. I’m sure you can “find” the rest. If you’re a friend of mine … contact me.
Out of all the shows on this list, Dark is my absolute favourite, and I’m so sad that the fact that it’s in German means that not many people will have had their minds blown with how amazing it is. And unfortunately, I think it’s the most difficult to describe without spoiling anything, but I’ll give it a red-hot go.
In 2019, in the small German town of Winden, a boy disappears in very similar circumstances to another boy who disappeared 33 years ago. When a body shows up, the town is thrown into turmoil. Because it’s not the body of the boy who just disappeared.
Events of the present begin affecting the events of the past. The question is not what, how, or who. The question is when.
This show is the perfect example of an intricately planned story. Details in episode one are critical for the finale, and it’s the kind of show that really rewards a rewatch too.
Format: 3 seasons, 10 episodes each, 50 minutes long.
Language: German. Netflix will start it with the English dub. DO NOT WATCH IT WITH THE ENGLISH DUB. Switch the audio to German, and use English subtitles.
Available on: Netflix.
The Jinx: The Life and Deaths of Robert Durst
This is the true-crime documentary that started the recent trend of true-crime documentaries. Forget Making a Murderer or The Staircase or Tiger King.
Robert Durst is a rich real estate heir suspected of committing three murders in the 1980s. It’s 2015 now, and while he went to trial for their murders in the nineties, he was acquitted. If he committed these murders, the American justice system has failed three victims.
Durst is the only suspect in all three deaths, yet willingly participates in the documentary, happily being interviewed to tell his side of the story. If he didn’t commit the murders, who did?
It all seems fairly straightforward. Durst is some kind of egomaniacal rich white man who, let’s be honest, probably did it.
And then, during the course of making the documentary, the filmmakers discover new evidence.
Don’t look up anything about the show, or Robert Durst himself. Everything you see will be a spoiler. Just watch it.
Format: 1 mini-series, 6 episodes, 1 hour long.
Available on: HBO, Binge, iTunes.
The Third Day
There’s nothing I love more than a format shakeup, and this one is certainly trying something new. The show is a production of Punchdrunk, creators of the excellent immersive theatre experience Sleep No More, which I have also written about, in collaboration with SkyTV and HBO.
Set on the (real) island of Osea just off the coast of mainland England, The Third Day is split into three parts (“seasons”). The island is only accessible via a long causeway, that is only sometimes above sea level depending upon the behest of the tide. And thus … you can get trapped on the island.
The first part of the series is three episodes long and is called “Summer”. It focuses on Jude Law’s character, a grieving father named Sam who ends up visiting Osea Island, but something’s off; the island’s residents are acting extremely weird, Sam’s mind begins playing tricks on him, and something cultish is brewing in the background.
The third and final part, called “Winter”, is also three episodes long, and focuses on Naomie Harris’s character. The director and crew of Summer and Winter are (as I understand it) entirely different, so the look and feel of these two parts is disorientatingly different.
The episodes of Summer and Winter themselves were okay. Good, above average television. At the time of writing, Winter hasn’t yet finished, but I don’t think overall I saw anything neccesarily groundbreaking.
But the middle part. The middle part.
Called “Autumn”, the middle “season” isn’t a television show at all. It’s a twelve hour, live theatrical event, broadcast as a single continuous shot of one very significant day on the island from 9:00am to 9:00pm. On the 3rd of October 2020, the show went live on Facebook, and tens of thousands of people, myself included, watched transfixed as a camera started to roll down the causeway towards the island.
It was all live. There are some cuts when they have to switch from the main to the backup camera a few times, but for all intents and purposes, we watched a single, continuous, twelve hour long performance. And you can watch it too. In case it wasn’t clear, it’s incredibly slow. It won’t be for everybody. It honestly won’t be for most people.
But I was mesmerised the entire time I watched.
Format: Three episodes (Summer), the live event (Autumn), and then three more episodes (Winter). You don’t have to watch the live Autumn event to understand the story of the episodes, it merely enhances them.
Available on: HBO (episodes), Punchdrunk’s website (Autumn live stream).
According to Metacritic, the average ratings for each season of this show are:
- Season 1: 65.
- Season 2: 80.
- Season 3: 99.
Damon Lindelof, writer of Watchmen (2019) and Lost (2004), spins the book The Leftovers into an incredibly strange yet ultimately beautiful television show. The central premise is that two years before the events of the show, The Great Departure occurred, and 2% of the world’s population (150 million people) vanished without a trace.
Before you go in, know that the disappearance is never explained. It’s not the point.
The point is how much it absolutely fucks up everyone left behind.
In an eerie prediction of the hellscape that is 2020 and QAnon, cults begin to form, people begin to argue about what’s true and what isn’t, and one man finds that he might … just might … actually be Jesus.
I bounced off this show the first two times I tried to watch it. The first episode? I thought it was one of the most boring things I’d ever seen. Great acting, but a story that moves at a snails pace.
But I pushed through to that final season to see why it was worth a 99, and boy was it worth it. I can’t say more than that. You kinda have to take a leap of faith with this show. It’s not for everyone, but nothing I like ever is.
That final season, by the way? The majority of it is set in Australia.
Format: 3 seasons, 8–10 episodes each, 1 hour long.
Available on: HBO, Binge.
The Night Of
2016, New York City.
Riz Ahmed plays Naz, a Pakistani-American college student who “borrows” his father’s taxi to drive to a party. At first he can’t figure out how to turn the vacant light off, and when he pulls up at an intersection, a woman gets in.
One thing leads to another. There’s drinking, drugs, sex, and then Naz blacks out.
When he comes to, she’s dead. And he can’t remember what happened.
The entire series, you’re with him — but you don’t know whether or not he did it. Riz Ahmed and John Turturro bring their absolute A-game to this show and are a pleasure to watch. Ahmed is initially timid, quiet and bookish, and you initially couldn’t believe he’d hurt a fly. But as he spends time in the US criminal justice system, you begin to wonder if the man you’re seeing him turn into is a product of it, or was in him all along.
Interestingly, Turturro’s character (Naz’s lawyer) was meant to be played by James Gandolfini before he unfortunately passed away. I wish we’d have gotten to see the version of the show where Tony Soprano was a kind-hearted lawyer, but alas.
Great miniseries. Get rid of your cat.
Format: 1 mini-series, 8 episodes, 1 hour long.
Available on: HBO, Binge, iTunes.
The Night Manager
Tom Hiddleston, Olivia Colman, Elizabeth Debicki, and Hugh Laurie. Four huge names, four absolute powerhouses.
In this spy thriller, Hiddleston plays an ex-British soldier working as a luxury hotel night manager in a number of exotic locales around the world. He’s surreptitiously recruited by Colman’s character (who becomes his handler), to work on behalf of the UK government to infiltrate an arms dealer (Laurie)’s inner circle.
Honestly, not too much more to say about this one. The acting is phenomenal, the story is satisfyingly gripping, and just about everything is somehow intensely sexual.
Everyone I know who’s seen this series said they watched it on a plane. Do yourself a favour and watch it in your house.
Format: 1 mini-series, 6 episodes, 1 hour long.
Available on: Prime Video.
Behind the Curve
This documentary is about flat earthers doing experiments to prove the earth is flat and accidentally proving it’s round every single time and it’s very funny.
Format: 1 documentary, 95 minutes long.
Available on: Netflix.
Video Game High School
I financially contributed to the production of all three seasons of this charming show and if you grew up, like me, playing video games, I really hope you’ll enjoy it.
The team at RocketJump as led by Freddie Wong, famous for making YouTube short films, used Video Game High School (VGHS) as their first foray into long-form content. After following their work for a few years, I was lucky enough to be there to follow along with the production of this show as well, and still follow their stuff to this day (check out my podcast recommendation list and you’ll find both Dungeons and Daddies and Story Break on there).
VGHS is set in a near-future alternate reality where people go to school for video games. Students go to classes such as FPS 101, Drift Racing, or Rhythm Method, and compete against other schools in esports-style tournaments. The show is a light-hearted dramedy, packed with tons of winks and nods for gamers of any kind (the Peter Molyneux-inspired rant that the principal goes on is *chef’s kiss*).
When BrianD (Josh Blaylock) accidentally defeats the world’s best player, “The Law” during a televised public match, he’s automatically inducted to VGHS. Starting at the bottom rung, Brian has to work his way to the top with his friends Ted, Ki and love interest JennyMatrix.
As the show gains momentum it grows in complexity. The first season is just short ten-minute episodes which could comfortably be cut together into a single movie (and in fact have), but as seasons 2 and 3 pull in more funding and viewership, they expand to full “traditional” 40-minute episodes of television and manage to pull in some absolutely bonkers cameos (and big names for main stars too, such as Cynthia Watros).
I know I didn’t have anything to do with the actual production of this show bar the dollars I chucked into Kickstarter/Indiegogo. But I’m still proud of it, especially when it goes into some darker territory in later seasons. There’s a particular performance in season 3 by Jimmy Wong that fuckin’ gets me every single time.
Trailer: I know this trailer says it’s on Netflix. It’s not. It’s all free now on YouTube.
Format: Three seasons, starting with nine ten-minute episodes in season 1, and graduating to six 30–40 minute episodes in seasons 2 and 3.
Available on: YouTube. Here’s the first episode. It’s ten minutes. Dive in!
That’s it! Please let me know if you have any weird genre-bending shows that I might like.