10 TV Shows That Are Much Better Than You Probably Think They Are

There are a lot of shows on television. A lot. It’s hard to keep up with them, unless some pop culture website is banging a drum on a weekly basis about how you should be watching this show or that show. Chances are, there are many series that you’ve never even given a shot, that you’ve dismissed out of hand because of the network it’s on, the lame premise, a cast member that you don’t care for, or because you judge a television show based on bad promotional materials. Many of those shows are also not covered regularly on pop-culture blogs like this, so they fly under the radar within a particular demographic that might never have even considered checking out these shows.

Below, I’ve put together a list of 10 of those series, which are currently running (or recently ended their runs). They’re not necessarily the best shows on television (although, the third on the list is definitely one of the top five shows TV right now), but they’re good, solid shows that, for whatever reason, a lot of people dismissed out of hand.

Longmire — It’s on A&E, so it probably isn’t on the radar of many of our readers, and the fact that it’s a procedural is a strike against it for others. But as someone who typically loathes procedurals, I’m a big fan of Longmire, which I’d describe as a kind of heavier, Western version of a USA Network show. The reason it’s so good, however, is because of Robert Taylor, who manages to be a soft-spoken bad ass, a tough, old leathery Lee Majors for this generation. “Longmire” is basically the show I envision Timothy Olyphant taking when he’s in his 50s or 60s. Katee Sackhoff is pretty great, too, even if she is sorely underused.

Elementary — Yes, in the previos entry, I mentioned that I typically loathe procedurals, and yet, here’s another one, a CBS rip-off of PBS’s Sherlock that so many of us dismissed out of the gate, including myself. But after a critical mass of viewers insisted that it was better than we were giving it credit for, I decided to catch up on the series over the summer (I’m currently in the midst of that). It is better than I thought it would be, and though there is a definite procedural component, it is steeped in Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s deductions, Jonny Lee Miller is outstanding, Lucy Liu’s Joan Watson works better than it has right right to, and the cases are far more compelling than your typical network procedural. It’s good, and sure as hell more fresh and interesting than the stale show that Castle has become. It’s also worth nothing that the phenomenal Rhys Ifans has been added to season two as Sherlock’s brother, Mycroft.

Rectify — A Sundance channel drama about a death row killer being released from prison and reintegrating into his small town and his family after 20 years locked up doesn’t sound like the most exciting show on television. The fact that it’s slow-paced and thoughtful may not sell you, either. In fact, had the reviews for the pilot not been so outstanding, I probably wouldn’t have given it a second thought. I’m glad I did because the first season of the drama, which was only six episodes, was definitely the best freshman series of the year (and I’m including Orphan Black) and may be the best new show since Game of Thrones. The show comes from the producers of Breaking Bad and Ray McKinnon, who some of you may know as Lincoln Potter on Sons of Anarchy. It is a devastating drama, a show that will chew you up and leave you fetal. The season finale this year was the most soul-destroying episode of television I’ve seen this year, and that includes the penultimate episode of Game of Thrones. It is that good. I promise you.

Awkward — It’s easy to dismiss anything that airs on MTV, and that’s exactly what I do with all of their other programming (save for Underemployed which is also better than you’d think). Awkward, however, is a great little coming of age sitcom (better in its first two seasons than the third), about a loserish high schooler who has to climb out of a hole of social pariah-ism after she’s mistaken for trying to kill herself. It’s kind of like the British version of The Inbetweeners crossed with The Wonder Years, featuring a female lead. It does a decent job of capturing some of what it’s like to suffer through high school, and the lead, Ashley Rickards, is poised to be a big star in the future. The only catch: The creator and showrunner unexpectedly decided to leave the show at the end of this season, so the future of the show may be murky.

The Killing — Wait, wait! Don’t stop reading. I hated the first two seasons, too, and never would’ve bothered with the third season if it had not been for the fact that my job demands that I keep up with such things. But listen: In the third season, at least so far, The Killing actually seems to be making good on the promise of the first season: The mystery is solid (there’s a serial killer), we’ve been promised it will be solved by the end of the first season, and Peter Sarsgaard has been fantastic as a death row inmate likely mistaken for the real killer. Like everyone else, I don’t trust it; I’ve been snakebitten too many times by The Killing, but I am really digging what we’ve seen so far. I think, in part, that the success of the season has to do with the fact that they’re investigating an active serial killer, who is currently piling up bodies, rather than investigating an old case. It’s a legitimately good show now.

The Good Wife — Considered by many to be a CBS show for old women, trust me when I say it’s so much more than that: Look at the image above. Keep looking. You think that’s a show for your grandmother? It is a legal drama, and there is an episodic component to it, as the firm has to deal with weekly cases. But more than that, it’s about the politics of working in a big law firm, the way that everyone in Chicago knows each other, ethical and moral dilemmas, and some of the best acting on television. Also, no show on television gets better guest stars than The Good Wife, including a recurring role from Michael J. Fox that is lights out fantastic. It doesn’t hurt, either, that The Good Wife — thanks to Archie Panjabi — is one of the more sexually provocative shows on network television. Again, see GIF set above.

SuitsSuits only qualifies as a show that’s much beter than you probably think only if you are one of those people that immediately dismiss USA Network shows. Like The Good Wife, there’s far more to Suits than you’d think, and plenty of my colleagues who haven’t seen the show heap sh*t on me for watching. Suits is unusual for a legal drama, however, in that there’s rarely any courtroom scenes: It’s about settling, and negotiation settlements allows the characters in Suits to put on weekly dick measuring contests full of bravado and ego. It has the requisitely attractive cast you’d expect from USA Network shows (including Donna (above), who is going for a Christina Hendricks vibe, and on occasion, matches it), but it’s also well acted, especially by scene-stealing Rick Hoffman, who plays Louis Litt. It’s not so much a legal procedural as a kind of lower stakes, USA Network version of Game of Thrones set in a law firm: Everyone wants their name on the door, and there’s a lot of maneuvering and politicking to try and get there.

Parenthood — The NBC drama, which enters its fourth season this fall, is not exactly the kind of show that might immediately appeal to the UPROXX demographic. There are no deaths. No sex scenes. No shocking twists. But if you loved Friday Night Lights, which comes from the same guy (Jason Katims), you’ll love Parenthood, which applies the same humanistic approach and centers on the same kind of good people trying to make good decisions. Also, if you only know Dax Shepard from his past work, you’ll never believe how captivating he can be. Overall, however, it is definitely a show that aims to jerk a tear or two out of your face, and more often than not, it succeeds. It doesn’t hurt that it has one of the best ensembles on television.

Hunted — It’s a Cinemax espionage series, and most would probably assume that — since it’s from that particular pay cable channel — that the spy plots are an excuse to feature lots of soft-core nudity. For better or worse, however, the Melissa George series had only a couple of nude scenes in the entire first season. It turned out, however, to be a nifty little spy series: Well plotted, smartly acted, and murky, the eight-episode first season from Frank Spotnitz (The X-Files) is more like what you’d expect from a British series (it was co-produced by the BBC): Grim, dense, and compelling. Sadly, the BBC opted against going ahead with a second season, though Cinemax is now considering a four-episode Sam Hunter spin-off to keep it going.

Southland — I know I’ve been beating this drum for quite some time on UPROXX, but I don’t plan to quit anytime soon. I’m hoping that people who avoided posts with Southland in the title will find this post and finally give the best cop series since The Wire a shot. The series, which finished out its run a few months ago, is decidedly not a police procedural. It’s a gritty, no-nonsense slice of life series about Los Angeles cops, their Sisyphean jobs and all the frustration that goes along with them. The entire cast is phenomenal, though Regina King and Michael Cudlitz are particular stand-outs, and if Cudlitz isn’t at least nominated for an Emmy this year, it’ll be a damn crime. It is a great drama that will kick you in the gut every single week, and I am convinced that — in the years to come — people will discover Southland on Netflix, Amazon, or DVD, and it will become the cult hit that it goddamn deserves to be.