The 31 most underrated TV shows to watch during lockdown OLD

Annie Lord,Jacob Stolworthy,Jake Cudsi,Alexandra Pollard,Adam White and Louis Chilton
·12 min read
There are many shows to seek out while self-isolating amid the coronavirus outbreak (The Independent/Eve Watling)
There are many shows to seek out while self-isolating amid the coronavirus outbreak (The Independent/Eve Watling)

You might be excited about the coronavirus quarantine. You might think it will serve as the final push you need to finish reading Crime and Punishment.

But let’s be honest: you won’t get past page two, nor will you get through The Odyssey, or polish off the first draft of that sitcom screenplay you keep talking about at the pub.

So before you waste your time staring into the abyss of a Microsoft Word document, make the most of your time in self-isolation with these underrated TV shows you’ve either been meaning to get around to watching or are yet to hear about.

Ben and Kate (rent on Amazon Prime)

One of the short-lived comedies that, in hindsight, had one of the most A-list creative teams imaginable, Ben & Kate is worth seeking out. Starring a pre-Fifty Shades Dakota Johnson, Oscar-winning screenwriter Nat Faxon and ludicrously funny British comic Lucy Punch and featuring Lorene Scafaria (Hustlers) on its writing staff, Ben & Kate revolved around two adult siblings living under one roof. From a simple sitcom premise it evolved into a rich, human and wonderfully silly ensemble comedy. That it was cancelled after 16 episodes, despite the talent at work, must have left Fox Television kicking themselves. AW

Casual (stream on Amazon Prime)

If you’re on the hunt for a quick and easy watch with impressive credentials, might we suggest the Jason Reitman-directed Casual? The sitcom, following a newly-single mother living with her brother and daughter, might not be the most transgressive, but it retains the laughs and charm throughout the entirety of its four seasons. JS

Champions (Netflix)

A cruelly curtailed comedy from Mindy Kaling, Champions lifted the sprightly silliness of her work on The Office and her own series, The Mindy Project, while boosting the heart. Anders Holm, Andy Favreau and Josie Totah were the unlikely trio thrown together in an uneasy living situation, sparking inevitable comedy. It took a played-out premise and revitalised it, and truly should have lasted longer than it did. AW

The Comeback​ (rent on Amazon Prime)

Lisa Kudrow in ‘The Comeback’ (Warner Bros. Television Distribution​)
Lisa Kudrow in ‘The Comeback’ (Warner Bros. Television Distribution​)

It was a brave move for Lisa Kudrow to make this meta gem her first starring TV role after the end of Friends. The mockumentary follows a washed-up sitcom star, Valerie Cherish, as she desperately tries to regain relevance with a new TV show. It is excruciatingly awkward – so much so that it makes Ricky Gervais’ The Office feel like a comfortable watch – but it’s full of pathos and profundity, too. It was cancelled after just one season, but a growing cult status led to a second, equally brilliant, outing a decade later. ​AP

Dark (Netflix)

Dishing out Nordic noir-style grit with Lost-sized cliffhangers, Dark is a Rubik’s cube of mystery masterfully combining two genres – the case of a missing child and time travel. Netflix rolled the dice with this high-concept drama that will be concluded with a third and final season. JS

Detroiters (stream on Amazon Prime)

Tim Robinson’s bizarre sketch show I Think You Should Leave was a big hit for Netflix last year; his short-lived sitcom, in which and Veep’s Sam Richardson played two incompetent advertising salesman, deserved just as much praise. It’s a blast. LC

The Eric Andre Show (rent on Amazon Prime)

Eric Andre is the undisputed champion of nihilistic comedy. The Eric Andre Show is the perfect platform for his brand of absurd chaos to flourish. Playing both victim and perpetrator of violent skits, bizarre monologues and disastrous interviews (with celebrities and suspect lookalikes), he created a show like no other. JC

Enlightened (NOW TV)

Before everyone else caught on, Laura Dern was almost exclusively beloved in the post-Jurassic Park, pre-Big Little Lies age for her work on HBO’s Enlightened. She gives one of television’s all-time great performances as a troubled businesswoman in the aftermath of a breakdown. Having emerged from a health retreat convinced she has been healed, she is determined to be morally good and ultimately save the world, but must contend with her own self-loathing and disappointments beforehand. From tragicomedy genius Mike White, Enlightened is rage-inducing and brilliant but ultimately incredibly hopeful. It combined all of the painful monotony and crushing blows of life in a succinct two-season run, and little has reached its melancholy wonder since. AW

Flowers (Netflix)

Who would’ve thought a sitcom about depression could be this fun? Well, fun might be a stretch, although this tragicomedy is often disturbingly funny. Opening with a failed suicide attempt, the show gets darker and more amusing as it goes on. Starring Julian Barratt and Olivia Colman, Flowers is a refreshingly original work. JC

The Girlfriend Experience (stream on Amazon Prime)

The first season of this Starz original series is daring TV, telling the story of an attorney in training (Riley Keough) who moonlights as a high-end sex worker. Asking tough questions about desire, sexuality and power, The Girlfriend Experience is smutty in the best, most unsettling ways. LC

Green Wing (4oD)

OK, watching a series set in a hospital might not be what you’re desiring right now, but Green Wing could be the medicine you’re after. Beloved when it first aired in 2004, the zany sitcom has unfairly dropped off the radar in recent years. There’s nothing quite like it thanks to madcap creations played by Michelle Gomez, Mark Heap and Pippa Haywood. JS

Halt and Catch Fire (stream on Amazon Prime)

Despite not yet having the A-list status she deserves, Mackenzie Davis is one of the finest actors of her generation. Her role as a spiky coding genius in Halt and Catch Fire, alongside an equally stellar cast of oddballs, is proof of that. This wonderful drama is ostensibly about the 1980s computer revolution – though in actuality, it is about so much more than that. – ​AP

High Maintenance (rent on Amazon Prime)

Adapted from a webseries by Ben Sinclair and Katja Blichfeld, High Maintenance is a vibrant anthology series focusing on the clients of an eccentric New Yorker weed dealer. The writing, acting, music and direction are all first-rate, and it’s also one of the most racially, sexually and culturally diverse shows on TV. LC

Last Tango in Halifax (BBC iPlayer)

All hail Sally Wainwright. Nobody makes TV with more warmth, wit and insight than the Yorkshire director, who’s also responsible for the fantastic Happy Valley. Anne Reid and Derek Jacobi play Celia and Alan, a couple reunited in their seventies after 60 years apart – but this is an ensemble piece through and through. As Celia’s formidable daughter Caroline, a headteacher coming to terms with the fact she’s a lesbian, Sarah Lancashire gives one of the finest performances of recent years. And Nicola Walker shines, too, as her shirty, sheep-farming stepsister Gillian. If you think Last Tango in Halifax is only for older viewers, you’re robbing yourself of a lot of joy.​ AP

Looking (NOW TV)

Jonathan Groff and Raúl Castillo in 'Looking' (HBO)
Jonathan Groff and Raúl Castillo in 'Looking' (HBO)

A low-key triumph set within San Francisco’s gay community, Looking was likely felled by its lack of spectacle. This was a show with little soapiness or glamour, its dramatic stakes admirably ordinary. It felt wonderfully human, though, with Jonathan Groff revelatory in the leading role and strong support from the likes of Russell Tovey and Raul Castillo. AW

Lovesick (Netflix)

Lovesick has a lot going for it, namely the indelible plot, which sees Dylan (Johnny Fynn) forced to contact all of his previous sexual partners after being diagnosed with chlamydia (hence the series’ original title: Scrotal Recall). The way creator Tom Edge plays with linearity means what would ordinarily be just another sitcom becomes the source of the kind of analysis usually reserved for complex dramas. JS

The OA (Netflix)

The OA was very much a series that danced to its own tune – a high-concept series that blended the cerebral with the magical in a way that we can only assume made David Lynch smile. Be warned: Netflix swung the axe on this show far earlier than deserved. JS

The Others (YouTube)

A short-lived fantasy series from Glen Morgan and James Wong – X-Files alumni who would go on to create the Final Destination franchise – The Others is the greatest show you’ve never heard of. Revolving around a group of amateur psychics, it was shown in a late-night timeslot on Channel 5 two decades ago, and was enjoyably high concept from the off. Episodes involved Jack the Ripper, haunted wallpaper and ghosts on airplanes, each hour possessing that chilly, made-in-Canada and perpetually autumnal spookiness. AW

Phoneshop (4oD)

This quirky comedy had a simple set-up, following four workers and their boss during the day-to-day of working in a phone shop. Our protagonist Christopher negotiates the boisterous behaviour of colleagues Ashley and Jerwayne, the awkwardness of co-worker Janine, and placates a particularly challenging boss. All while trying to sell some phones. JC

Rectify (buy on Amazon)

Aden Young in 'Rectify' (AMC)
Aden Young in 'Rectify' (AMC)

One read of Rectify‘s premise will lure you in: Daniel Holden (Aden Young), imprisoned as a teenager for the rape and murder of a young girl, spends 19 years on death row before fresh DNA evidence throws the verdict into question. His release and ensuing assimilation back into society, however, won’t be easy; many of the townsfolk are convinced he’s guilty. Ray McKinnon’s little-seen drama is one of television’s best kept secrets. JS

Roots (rent on Amazon Prime)

An updated version of the 1977 series, which proved a watershed moment in American television, the new Roots retains the shock and brutality of its predecessor. Telling the tale of Kunta Kinte, a tribesman from The Gambia who is sold as a slave in America, Roots tells the history of millions, framed in the story of a family tree. Unflinching, horrendously graphic, and a deeply affecting portrayal of human suffering, the updated Roots is an essential watch. JC

The Shield (4oD)

This critically lionised cop drama remains largely unknown, most likely because all of its seven seasons ran on then-little-known cable channel FX. Taking inspiration of real-life Rampart scandal of the 1990s, The Shield follows a four-man Strike Team who take advantage of the war on drugs to get rich. AL

Shrill (BBC iPlayer)

Aidy Bryant and Lolly Adefope in ‘Shrill’ (Hulu)
Aidy Bryant and Lolly Adefope in ‘Shrill’ (Hulu)

This taboo-smashing comedy follows aspiring journalist Annie as she rallies against nasty bosses, non-committal boyfriends and fat-shaming trolls. You might come for the laughs, but some of the more emotional storylines will leave you in tears. AL

The Sinner (Netflix)

A pulsating, captivating detective series, now in its third iteration. The premise is simple enough: what makes seemingly ordinary people commit terrible crimes? The answer, however, is always complicated. A slow burner, twisting and turning as each season progresses, The Sinner consistently delivers engrossingly gripping finales. The performances of Bill Pullman, playing a troubled detective, and Jessica Biel, a woman charged with murder in the first series, are particular highlights. JC

Skam (rent on Amazon Prime)

This Norwegian teen drama series – think Skins, with fewer drugs and better acting – is phenomenally successful in some corners of the internet. It was set at exactly the same time, to the minute, as it aired, and fans could see each character's social media accounts update as the plot developed. It wasn't just a gimmick, though – even if you didn't follow along with all the tertiary Tumblr drama, this show offered a smart and unflinching look at the messy lives of contemporary teens.​ AP

Top of the Lake (rent on Amazon Prime)

This Jane Campion drama is an eerie, dark crime story about missing women. It requires patience, but the moody thriller is worth the wait. Elisabeth Moss is mesmerising as an entirely dysfunctional, but ruthless detective and the finale is one of the most explosive in TV history. AL

Treme (NOW TV)

The slow pace of this fiercely humanistic series about post-Katrina New Orleans has become something of a running joke among TV writers – inspiring gently disparaging jokes in 30 Rock and BoJack Horseman. They’re wrong: David Simon’s music-infused drama is a brilliant work of art and a worthy follow-up to The Wire. LC

Undone (stream on Amazon Prime)

Devastated that BoJack Horseman‘s finished? Hitch your wagon to Undone, the new series from its creator Raphael Bob-Waksberg. Just like BoJack, Undone refuses to shy away from the tough questions, this time following a girl named Alma (voiced by Rosa Salazar) who gains the ability to manipulate time after a near-fatal car crash. JS

Unforgotten (Netflix)

Forget Broadchurch – this crime drama not only delivered a breathtaking first season, but capitalised on its success with not one, but two worthy follow-ups. It follows two detectives – played by Nicola Walker and Sanjeev Bhaskar – as they solve murder cases in London. It’s about time Walker got Olivia Colman-levels of recognition. JS

The West (Netflix)

For fans of immersive, deeply informative documentaries, Stephen Ives’ The West is a must-see. Ken Burns is executive producer, but the 1996 PBS documentary has enjoyed far less attention than any of his own directing work. Peter Coyote narrates an edifying history of the American West, featuring the tragic plight of the Native American people, the battles with conquistadors and then Mexicans, the effort to connect the two coasts, and stories from civil war. The West paints a vivid picture of a land steeped in natural beauty and violent upheaval. It’s the definitive story of the American West. JC

What We Do In The Shadows (BBC iPlayer)

The TV spin-off of Taika Waititi’s similarly underrated film of the same name uses the same set and mockumentary-style shooting. Jemaine Clement (a star of the film) adapts it for the small screen and writes (alongside Waititi) a deadpan script layered with genius pop culture references, regularly ridiculing tropes of the vampire-horror genre. Three typical vampires and a daywalker energy-vampire share a house in Staten Island. A documentary crew follows them in their doomed attempts to adapt to 21st-century American life. JC

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