Features

The 10 Most Overlooked TV Shows of the 2010s

Ballet dancers, civil servants, a wolfman and a witch are among the characters who deserved more than they got.
  • Sutton Foster, Josh Hartnett, Eva Green and Oscar Isaac (Freeform, Showtime, HBO)
    Sutton Foster, Josh Hartnett, Eva Green and Oscar Isaac (Freeform, Showtime, HBO)

    It's that time of year again when everyone is writing their Best of the Year lists. This year, those lists are joined by a look at the Best of the Decade.  The 2010s, a decade that came in like an Obama and went out like a Trump impeachment, are difficult to sum up in terms of the period's best television, but the usual suspects keep emerging: Mad Men, Breaking Bad, Game of Thrones, Veep, and so on.

    If you read enough of the lists, you start to realize some great niche shows are missing. Which brings me, along with Primetimer managing editor Joe Reid, to the ten shows we believe deserved more love, more respect, and in most cases, more episodes.

    American Crime (2015-17)

    Pity ABC, which released a crime anthology series called American Crime just as FX released the über-buzzy Ryan Murphy-produced American Crime Story. The network variant never really stood a chance, particularly when the first season was just decent. The second and third seasons on the other hand were nothing short of extraordinary. Season 2 explored sexual assault and sexuality in a nuanced, complicated way. Season 3 tackled modern slavery from immigrant labor to cam girls. (Primetimer's Aaron Barnhart wrote about that final season at length earlier this year.). John Ridley tapped into something extraordinary in this series, and gave talented actors like multi-Emmy-winning Regina King (Watchmen) the kind of meaty roles they deserved. Had the show been named just about anything else, it might have lasted for several more seasons, but the brand just wasn’t distinguishable enough in the buzzy climate of Peak TV. - Kevin O'Keeffe

    Bunheads (2012-13)

    Few shows in the 2010s wore their hearts on their sleeve the way Bunheads did for one season on ABC Family (now known as Freeform). Amy Sherman-Palladino’s first major follow-up to Gilmore Girls (give or take a Return of Jezebel James) initially had too much of that beloved WB hit in its veins: quirky brunette lead, Kelly Bishop as a matriarch, and rapid-fire pop culture dialogue. Where Bunheads thrived, and what it included more of as it went on, was in dance. Sutton Foster played Michelle, a Vegas showgirl turned-small town dance instructor, leading a cast largely comprised of her young charges. The girls Michelle worked with were the heart and soul of the show — and, unlike Rory Gilmore before them, they often best expressed themselves through movement instead of words.

    No one can deny that Bunheads took some time to find itself. Michelle didn’t even officially take a job as a dance teacher until well into the season, but when it worked, it was extraordinary. Just watch the "Istanbul (Not Constantinople)" dance and tell us this show didn’t deserve more time on the air. - KO

    The Chair (2014)

    Starz aired the decade's most fascinating reality competition, as well as the most compelling peek behind the curtain at the movie business, while almost accidentally crossing streams with the burgeoning YouTube revolution. And this was a decade in which Project Greenlight was revived long enough to spark a digital-vs-film debate and had Matt Damon saying the quiet part aloud about how diversity is only taken so far in Hollywood. The Chair took a fairly straightforward idea: take the same film script and hand it to two different directors with different sensibilities and let them conceptualize, cast, film, and edit it how they want, then see what films emerge. What resulted in following the progress of neurotic Anna Martemucci and terminally obnoxious Shane Dawson was nothing short of fascinating. (The extra part, involving having the films open and compete to make money was less interesting, but the show can't be blamed for the death of mid-market theatrical distribution.) - Joe Reid

    Dear White People (2017-20)

    How on earth could a Netflix series with a cast stacked with young, fresh, attractive talent — largely Black talent! — be underrated? From what we understand of Netflix’s woke-adjacent brand, Justin Simien’s expansion adaptation of his 2014 film should’ve been a crown jewel for the streaming service. Yet Dear White People never quite felt like Netflix’s priority, in publicity or in awards campaigning. Those who missed it missed the chance to see stars like Logan Browning, DeRon Horton, Marque Richardson, and Ashley Blaine Featherson born right in front of their eyes. Dear White People was also consistently the best show at tackling our current political moment, predicting much of it before Donald Trump’s election in Season 1, responding to it with fury and anger in Season 2, then reflecting our post-anger malaise and confusion in Season 3.

    There’s good news, though: unlike the other shows on this list, it’s not yet over. A fourth (and final) season is coming in 2020, which means there's time to catch up if you haven’t seen the show, and help to give it a proper send-off next year. - KO

    Enlightened (2011-13)

    The zeitgeist finally caught up with Laura Dern by the end of the decade, falling all over themselves to praise her work on TV shows like Big Little Lies and very possibly setting her up for an Oscar for her work in Marriage Story. We just can't help wish more people had caught on to the sheer perfection she was delivering in Mike White's HBO dramedy. In its simplest terms, Enlightened was about improvement. Improvement of self and improvement of the world around us, and what it takes to make either one truly possible. It was about the gulf that sits between the better people we want to be and the weak, angry, flawed, frustrated people we are.

    Enlightened featured moments of high-wire comedy, as the frustrations of living under the thumb of 21st century capitalism boiled over. It also featured moments of disarming grace, as Amy Jellicoe reflected on her life's choices and regrets. Dern handled both sides with skill and humor, and her own mother, Diane Ladd, had a supporting role in what might be the very best TV episode of the decade: "Consider Helen," in which an overlooked, hectoring old mother gets reconsidered. - JR

    Faking It (2014-16)

    If I told you that the first half of the 2010s featured a colorful, acerbic, heartfelt series that centered on queer people but sometimes got clumsy, would you think I was talking about Glee? Because you’d be right, but I’m actually talking about MTV’s Faking It, the series that asked the question, "What if two girls pretended to be lesbians for popularity, but in the process one realized she actually is a lesbian?" Again, kinda clumsy. But impressively, Faking It continued to push representational boundaries as it went on over the years, including multiple intersex characters (one actually played by an intersex actor), multiple queer characters, and more. It was also frequently quite funny, and charming as hell. It deserves more praise and attention for pushing the rainbow ball forward. - KO

    Getting On (2013-15)

    While Game of Thrones and Veep lapped up all the ratings and attention (often deservedly so), HBO also nailied it with several of its smaller, quieter shows. Getting On threaded a tricky needle, finding comedy amid health-care professionals caring for people at the end of their lives. It did so because it had the benefit of actresses like Laurie Metcalf, Niecy Nash, and Alex Borstein, who each committed fiercely to the concept. The result was probably the most humane series of the decade. - JR

    The Keepers (2017)

    Netflix’s 2017 docuseries ostensibly investigated the death of nun Cathy Cesnik in Baltimore. In truth, that unsolved murder was merely one aspect of this shocking series, which drew the most attention for investigating the potential sexual predation of priest Joseph Maskell, and how the Catholic archdiocese protected him. As necessary as a movie like Spotlight, The Keepers was nonetheless lost amid the true crime series wave, and couldn’t make the same kind of noise as a splashier series like Wild Wild Country. But for our money, it was the best of the set — empathetic and understanding of the victims at the heart of the piece, but still dogged and invested in learning the truth. - KO

    The Mick (2017-18)

    Kaitlin Olson took a break from It's Always Sunny in Philadelphia to play another lovable dirtbag. When Mickey's sister and brother in law skip town to avoid punishment for their white-collar crime, she's left caring for her monstrously spoiled niece and nephews. For a show that was unafraid of touching on topics like class and gender, The Mick managed to avoid both preachiness while still feeling smart and humane, despite the general shittiness of its characters. The cast had tremendous comedic chemistry with one another, particularly Olsen, Carla Jiminez as the kids' former housekeeper, and Thomas Barbusca as the tightly-wound middle child. It's a shame it couldn't score a third season. - JR

    Penny Dreadful (2014-16)

    Showtime's bread and butter this decadeseemed to be kitchen-sink dramedies about families straining under the weight of cancer/poverty/multiple personalities. But its best show was a baroquely dark, romantic, violent, and altogether spooky drama that pulled an MCU mashup on the legends of Dracula, the Wolfman, Frankenstein, and Dorian Gray. The result was sexy, bloody, and completely over-the-top, and it rarely failed to deliver. Featuring performances from the likes of Eva Green, Rory Kinnear, Timothy Dalton, and Patti LuPone (not to mention Josh Hartnett and Reeve Carney going to town on each other), along with delicious production design, this was artful horror done right. - JR

    Show Me a Hero (2015)

    Somehow, between Treme and The Deuce (and while The Wire was still a faint memory), David Simon pulled off a miracle. He got HBO to greenlight a miniseries on public housing, starring newly certified Internet Boyfriend Oscar Isaac as Yonkers mayor Nick Wasicsko. And it was terrific. A steady slow burn that actually taught viewers about a critical issue, Show Me a Hero was the last of a certain kind of narrative miniseries —  one you could generously call informative, and less generously call "eating your vegetables." That it was so enthralling is a tribute to Simon, Isaac, and the terrific Catherine Keener as a key supporting player. Show Me a Hero is truly one of the decade’s most underrated gems, and still deserving of your viewership all these years later. - KO

    Terriers (2010)

    Private detectives Donal Logue and Michael Raymond-James spent one perfect season doggedly pursuing cases that proved to be part of an escalating series of interconnected crimes, eventually running them afoul of some big, bad operators, all within the laid-back, idyllic Ocean Beach community in San Diego. A satisfying investigative procedural as well as a really great hang. The leads had phenomenal chemistry, and the season got stronger as it went on. All the ingredients were there… except ratings. And in pretty much the one mistake it made over the course of an otherwise excellent decade, FX gave it the axe. - JR

    Kevin O'Keeffe is a writer, host, and RuPaul's Drag Race herstorian living in Los Angeles. Follow his musings and rantings on Twitter @kevinpokeeffe.

    TOPICS: American Crime, Bunheads, The Chair, Dear White People, Enlightened, Faking It, Getting On, The Keepers, The Mick, Penny Dreadful, Show Me a Hero, Terriers