Each December, acclaimed television series from the previous 12 months are discussed in the form of “best of...” lists. In these, the same shows are usually bandied around – some deserving (Better Call Saul), others not so (we won’t name names).
Often, though, several key titles are omitted – not because they aren’t any good, but because they haven’t been widely seen. This is understandable; after all, there’s an increasing amount of television to wade through every week.
Perhaps this is why these lists are skewed towards the high-profile releases – the ones that happen to be right there when people browse Netflix or whichever streaming service they have. But the fact remains, there’s a goldmine of under-the-radar shows out there to discover.
In the past year, all of the below deserved more love.
‘As We See It’ (Prime Video)
Season one, premiered 21 January
The media’s representation of autism has long been considered one-note, but this year offered the most authentic, and educational, depiction yet. With As We See It, Prime Video released one of the best shows of the year. Sadly, it also cancelled it. The show, centred on relatable characters who also happen to be autistic, is funny, emotional and heartwarming – which is unsurprising considering creator Jason Katims worked on the equally lovely Friday Night Lights.
‘Station Eleven’ (StarzPlay)
Limited series, premiered 30 January
Casual viewers wanting a straightforward viewing experience should probably stay away from Station Eleven, which is one of the most astounding shows of the year. Adapted by Maniac’s Patrick Somerville from Emily St John Mandel’s 2014 novel, the series starts amid a flu pandemic that wipes out 99.99 per cent of the world’s population. With disparate characters whose enigmatic relationships with each other are revealed over 10 episodes, Station Eleven is long-game television – and a series that rewards patience.
‘Somebody Somewhere’ (Sky Atlantic)
Season one, 3 March
Somebody Somewhere, despite being extremely feelgood, has plenty of emotion at its core. Set in small-town Kansas, the show follows Sam, a woman dealing with a midlife crisis after the death of her sister. If that sounds like a miserable watch, it’s anything but. Bridget Everett – whose life inspired the series – is endlessly charming in the lead role, with her performance ranking as one of the most loveable of the year. Sam’s touching camaraderie with co-worker Joel (Jeff Hiller) is surely the source of friendship goals everywhere. A second season will premiere in 2023.
‘Pachinko’ (Apple TV Plus)
Season one, premiered 25 March
Admittedly, this show has grown in popularity as the year went on, but that’s thanks to fervent word of mouth. Soo Hugh’s adaptation of the 2017 novel by Min Jin Lee was an extraordinary addition to Apple TV Plus’s already commendable slate of releases this year. Pachinko is a sprawling epic focused on four generations of one family across nearly a century. The cast is led by Kim Min-ha and Youn Yuh-jung, who play younger and older versions of a Korean woman named Sunja as the series explores her life in Japanese-occupied Korea and, later, as a Korean immigrant in Japan.
‘Undone’ (Prime Video)
Season two, premiered 29 April
Undone may as well be called “unsung” considering the lack of fanfare surrounding its second season. Billed as Prime Video’s first adult animated original series when it first arrived in 2019, the show is a high-concept tale following Alma Winograd-Diaz (Rosa Salazar), a Mexican American woman who begins to develop the ability to manipulate and move through time following a car crash. Its creators, BoJack Horseman’s Kate Purdy and Raphael Bob-Waksberg, built on the stellar first season to deliver a follow-up worthy of discussion.
‘For All Mankind’ (Apple TV Plus)
Season three, premiered 10 June
Space race drama For All Mankind could very well be the jewel in Apple TV Plus’s crown. Created by Battlestar Galactica’s Ronald D Moore, the show explores an alternative universe where the US was beaten to the moon by the Soviet Union. The show, now onto its third season, has such fun exploring the ricochet effect of such an event and, with each new outing, hurtles through the decades: season one starts in 1969, while the latest season brought events up to 2001. The majority of the show is character-focused, but it doesn’t skimp on the action: episode five, in which a mission to Mars goes horrifically wrong, is as thrilling as any space film.
‘The Lazarus Project’ (Sky Atlantic)
Series one, premiered 16 June
Writer Joe Barton has fallen victim to the unpredictability of cancellations twice, now – his previous series, Giri/Haji and The Bastard Son & the Devil Himself, both got unfairly canned before their time. Fortunately, it seems we’ll receive a second season of The Lazarus Project, which was one of the most inventive, clever shows of the year. The time-loop drama, led by the brilliant Paapa Essiedu and Anjli Mohindra, follows a covert team that repeatedly goes back in time to foil world-ending plots. Think Spooks meets Groundhog Day – but somehow even better than that sounds.
‘The Capture’ (BBC)
Series two, premiered 28 August
If there was any justice, The Capture would receive the same fanfare as Line of Duty or Happy Valley. The surveillance thriller, which tackles the use of deepfake technology, is just as gritty, tense and addictive as its forebears. It’s also anchored by a confident Holliday Grainger, whose green-coat-wearing DI Rachel Carey is an unpredictable, multi-layered lead. The show is extremely ridiculous, too, but in an enjoyably un-tacky way that helps you look past the plot holes and watch it for what it is: one of the most enjoyable British thrillers in years.
‘How to with John Wilson’ (BBC)
Season one and two, premiered 4 September
This show may have been released in the US in 2020, but it’s suddenly arrived in the UK, popping up on BBC iPlayer in September. Unknown to many, one of the best imports in recent years was finally available. Each episode sees documentarian John Wilson tackle a seemingly banal subject – scaffolding, splitting the bill, and, yes, battery disposal – via a video essay in which he marries his words with random shots captured in and around New York City. It’s a bold concept, but one that Wilson nails. The result is soothing, poignant, and, quite often, unbelievably funny television.
‘The Kingdom: Exodus’ (MUBI)
Limited series, premiered 27 November
It’s rare to receive the concluding chapter to a series 28 years after it first began, and a quarter of a century after it was last on. But that’s exactly what happened with The Kingdom, thanks to Danish auteur Lars von Trier. His celebrated 1990s TV show returned with Exodus, a limited series set in a haunted hospital that’s the source of a possibly apocalyptic demonic danger. Like before, the show is equal parts a workplace comedy and a slice of arthouse horror, this time injected with star wattage in the form of Alexander Skarsgård and Willem Dafoe. It’s a metatextual, nightmare-fuelled oddity. And, being set at Christmas, it brings with it a unique brand of festive spirit.
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