Yeah yeah, we get it, Breaking Bad and The Walking Dead are amazing. It’s quite likely that even if you don’t stream anything remotely similar to these programs, they still show up on your Netflix homepage. But what about great TV shows that aren’t talked about or have been forgotten? How about foreign shows that have never aired in the U.S. but are no less brilliant for it? Netflix’s nearly endless offerings are a double edged sword: there’s so much to choose from that anyone will always be able to find something that appeals to his or her particular tastes. But trolling through Netflix’s massive catalog to find something different can be tiresome — let alone trying to determine whether a show is actually a hidden gem or you’ve just never heard of it because no one ever needs to.
We’ve peered into the deep shadows cast by the most popular TV shows’ blinding spotlight to find the best shows now streaming on Netflix that you likely haven’t heard of. We’re giving the nod to foreign dramas, well-known in their own countries but hardly heard of in the U.S., as well as some homegrown shows that never really got the attention or ratings they deserved.
This delightfully twisted surreal dark comedy is relatively well-known compared with some of the other picks on this list but for some reason has never really taken off, despite how hilarious it is. Dark humor can be a bit niche, sure, but the show — a U.S remake of the original Aussie version — also creates laughs from its bizarre situation, with a healthy dash or two of juvenile humor thrown in for good measure. Add to that the weird existential conundrums (is Ryan actually dead? Is Wilfred real or is Ryan just crazy?) for a bit of intrigue and Elijah Wood’s wonderful embodiment of a neurotic nice guy who makes perhaps a few too many banal conclusions about how to be a better person living a more meaningful life through his relationship with a dog-that’s-a-human-in-a-dog-suit, and the experiment in ridiculousness is a win. You’ll soon be joining the camp of small but dedicated Wilfred fans constantly amazed that everyone he or she asks has never even heard of the show, let alone seen it.
Fans of Joss Whedon might be aware of his lesser known and shorter-aired (as compared to his Firefly) sci-fi drama Dollhouse but to most it remains as uncharted as deep space. The show is based around the premise of an illegal enterprise that rents out human beings, the natural memories of which have been wiped and replaced with downloaded personalities as per the customers’ requests. The show, by the nature of its content, serves as a vehicle for exploring the moral and social implications of coerced and supposedly non-coerced prostitution and the nature of identity. Whether that’s wittingly done by the show’s creators or not is a bit ambiguous but, regardless, it raises some interesting questions. Whedon’s touch is manifest in the show’s style (a little bit hokey but in a palatable way, some lines that just can’t be delivered in sincerity without seeming completely silly — no matter how accomplished the actor) and whether that’s a good thing or not is entirely dependent on your opinion of the Buffy creator. Three seasons ended this show before it’s sell-by date but in our opinion that kept it within the realm of “the good die young” rather than perpetuating it into the category of “please put this out of its misery.”
Comparisons of this Channel 4 series to The Wire are plentiful and not off-base. The show’s creators have admitted to wanting to emulate the highly regarded Baltimore drug drama. To say that Top Boys doesn’t rival its inspiration is definitely not to say that the show isn’t great because, well, really when aiming for such loft heights as The Wire, to fall a bit short is still to fall quite a bit higher than most (to paraphrase Bette Davis.) You might have to pull some Roland Pryzbylewskian stunts to be able to understand the Hackney accents replete with colloquialisms but don’t worry, a few episodes in and the phrases like “yo! wau’ gon?” and “this is some jol ting, bruv” will make complete sense to you. The main characters of this drama, set in a fictitious housing estate in East London called Summerhouse, are well-conceived and empathetic. Supposedly Drake loves the show so much he’s trying to get an American remake set in Chicago off the ground.
The eponymous main character of this series is what completely makes the show. It’s rare that we’re treated to such a realistic female character, crafted with such conscientious verisimilitude. Perhaps it’s because the Danish TV series is based on several of skilled journalist and writer Elsebeth Egholm’s crime fiction novels that Dicte succeeds where so many others have failed. The show follows an impassioned reporter as she sometimes gets pulled a bit too deep into the crimes she’s covering, resiliently and gracefully rebounds from her recent divorce, and cares for and takes refuge in the enviably strong relationships she has with her daughter and friends. Even the more minor characters in the show have the benefit of being well-rounded and the detective aspects of the show are on par with the best of its ilk. Added bonus: the main character is portrayed by Iben Hjejle of High Fidelity and Defiance renown.
What happens when a French film auteur with a background in philosophy, compared to Lars von Trier and known for his nihilistic “feel-bad” dramas, decides to make a comedy? A brilliant, dark horse absurdist farce is born. Li’l Quinquin, like many of Dumont’s films, takes place in rural Northern France and uses many actors who are completely untrained to tell his madcap crime comedy. Commandant Van der Weyden is a bumbling, inept detective, trying to solve the murder of a woman who’s dismembered body was found inside a cow – an actual bêtehumaine as Van der Weyden’s right hand, Lieutenant Carpentier remarks. He’s often foiled in his (albeit sub-par) crime-solving efforts by Quinquin, a darker Dennis the Menace — real malevolence tinging his mischief and complicating his innocence, illustrated by his tender relationship with his girlfriend, Eve. The series is a study of the futility of contemplating the incomprehensible, juxtaposed with reflections on very real French social issues manifest in little everyday actions. Whether Dumont is laughing at his characters and audience or with them is up for debate, but Van der Weyden says, “we’re not here to philosophize.”