TV

Our Favorite Under-The-Radar Shows Of 2020

There are so many shows. An unreasonable amount, really, spread across dozens of channels and streaming services. You can be forgiven if you missed a few good ones. We forgive you, at least, because it is our job to watch shows and we missed a bunch of good ones throughout the year. Luckily, this is a problem with a solution. A solution we can help you reach, hopefully. Let’s discuss some under-the-radar shows from 2020.

What defines an under-the-radar show? It’s tough to put a fine point on it. Maybe it was a big splashy show that never caught on fully. Maybe it’s a little show on a little network that was fighting the good fight against the Goliaths of the industry. Maybe it’s just a show you liked a lot that you wanted more people to watch. The last one, mostly, if we’re being honest. That’s what we’re doing here. We are yelling at you to watch some shows we like. Again. We’re sorry for the yelling, we swear, but also you are very welcome for the very good recommendations.

Pen15 (Hulu)

HULU

With all due respect to Lalo Salamanca, the most diabolically evil villain on TV this year was Maura. “Maura.” Even typing her name makes me angry. In season two of Hulu’s Pen15, a very good and very relatable show about teenage vulnerability, horniness, and compassion at an age when it feels like everyone is against you, she has the gall to come between Maya Ishii-Peters (Maya Erskine) and Anna Kone (Anna Konkle). She didn’t break their friendship, but she did test it when, before, it felt like nothing — or no one — could come between them. Maura’s only in two episodes (and makes a brief appearance in a third), but her presence can be felt all season, and likely into future seasons. She’s a great villain, because you either knew a Maura in middle school, a verbally manipulative bully who gaslights her “friends,” or you were a Maura. I knew a Maura, because I was too busy reading my favorite zine Weasels to be a Maura. — Josh Kurp

Joe Pera Talks With You (Adult Swim)

ADULT SWIM

It is very hard to describe Joe Pera Talks With You. I’m going to try. It’s a short-ish form Adult Swim series about an extremely nice choir teacher in Michigan. Each episode is structured around a single topic that is usually very specific and often not what the episode is really about. “Joe Pera Takes You to the Grocery Store,” “Joe Pera Goes to Dave Wojcek’s Bachelor Party,” “Joe Pera Shows You How to Do Good Fashion,” etc. They range from 10 to 20 and are like tiny little films, sometimes riotously funny in the driest way you can picture, sometimes sweeter than maple syrup, sometimes just endlessly peaceful. It’s a beautiful little show. Early in quarantine, I binged about seven episodes one Saturday. I think it lowered my blood pressure by half. And kept me entertained. It’s good. You will never care more about beans in your entire life than during the second season. I promise you this. — Brian Grubb

The Great (Hulu)

HULU

I’m really not sure what I’m doing here, at the end of this miserable year, still trying to convince folks to binge Hulu’s The Great. I mean, it’s an 18th-century punk Russian soap opera filled with wigs, over-the-top drama, and Nicholas Hoult tossing Pomeranian off balconies in the name of science. Honestly, it’s like none of you even appreciate real art anymore. — Jessica Toomer

Gentefied (Netflix)

Netflix

America Ferrera, along with creators Linda Yvette Chavez and Marvin Lemus, produced this lovable show (first developed into a digital series that premiered back at Sundance Film Festival) that explores Mexican-American identity with some badass, dramatic-comedy chops. The show, which functions as a love letter to the Latinx community in a Los Angeles neighborhood, follows a trio of cousins who are struggling to wrap their arms around the American dream. The best part of this thing, though, is Joaquín Cosio, who was pretty intimidating as Don Neto in Narcos: Mexico‘s first season, but he’s a teddy-bear immigrant grandfather here. He’s one of many authentic characters in this show who people will adore. Gentefied is quick-witted and funny and fierce and, at times, heartbreaking, as well as culturally and historically significant, and it scored a Season 2 renewal. — Kimberly Ricci

Industry (HBO)

HBO

The density of Industry cannot be denied but it shouldn’t scare you off. The show is filled with micro details, aiming to present a realistic look at this group of finance twentysomethings as they launch toward lives that will doubtlessly diverge from their plans. Partying, screwing, developing alliances (not quite friendships), and rivalries all play a part, but none bigger than ambition and the faking it until you make it mask worn by some of these characters. At its heart, the show feels of this world (well, not this exact world at this exact moment) and, as such, feels intoxicatingly relatable no matter your field. — Jason Tabrys

Solar Opposites (Hulu)

Hulu

Justin Roiland’s non-Rick and Morty animated series, Solar Opposites, is about a family of aliens who “crashed on Earth, stranding us on an already overpopulated planet,” as patriarch Korvo says in the intro. The alien stuff isn’t why I included the show on this list, though. It’s good, and gets better as the season progresses. But the highlight of season one, and one of the best episodes for any show this year, is episode seven, “Terry and Korvo Steal a Bear.” How to explain this The Wire-inspired epic? Well, one of Korvo’s kids has a habit of shrinking humans to the size of a mouse, placing them in a terrarium in his bedroom (known as “The Wall”), and forgetting about them. An entire post-apocalyptic society lives in there, but doesn’t thrive, not with resources being overseen by The Duke, a corrupt ruler voiced by Alfred Molina. It’s up to Tim and Cherie (Andy Daly and Christina Hendricks) to overthrow the system… or is it? If “tiny humans going through a revolution, led by Forrest MacNeil and Joan from Mad Men, in an alien’s bedroom” doesn’t convince you to watch Solar Opposites, I don’t know what will. — Josh Kurp

Mythic Quest (Apple+)

Apple TV

Mythic Quest made a big splash in the spring with its pitch-perfect quarantine episode. In hindsight, it’s kind of incredible how real and how accurate that was so soon into the whole experience. Go watch it now if you somehow haven’t seen it yet. But more importantly, go watch all of Mythic Quest. It’s so good. Fun and heartfelt, dirty and sweet, loaded with great performances from people you know (Rob McElhenney, Danny Pudi) and people you might not know as well (Charlotte Nicdao, who is so good). It doesn’t even matter if video games aren’t your thing, which I can testify to because they aren’t mine. I still loved the show. The arc of the whole season is deep and satisfying, and there’s a stand-alone episode in the middle of it all that delivers a surprise Jake Johnson and Cristin Milioti sighting. How did you not watch Mythic Quest? I’m mad now. Please fix this. For me. — Brian Grubb

Tales From The Loop (Amazon Prime)

This show’s a lot like Black Mirror but kinder and gentler without scaring the bejesus out of you. It’s beautiful to look at with soft visuals that resemble a moving oil painting, which makes sense, given that the show’s based upon surreal, wildly popular digital paintings from Simon Stålenhag. Matt Reeves (The Batman) produces here, and viewers are treated to a relaxing (although occasionally unsettling) ride about an Ohio town that’s situation above “The Loop” machinery, which is basically an experimental physics center that unlocks and dig into the universe’s mysteries. So, we get to see some trippy happenings that gleefully dive into sci-fi realms with the visuals bending like a twisted marriage between Isaac Asimov and Salvador Dali. The series also has a lot of heart along with its existential meditations, and it doesn’t sensationalize or dive into cautionary tales about technology like Black Mirror often does. — Kimberly Ricci

The Unicorn (CBS)

CBS

This show stars Walton Freaking Goggins in a rare feel-good role. As Wade the Widower, he’s attempting to navigate the online dating scene, and he is apparently the rarest of mythical creatures. Because this is the guy playing Boyd Crowder we’re talking about, there aren’t really any Bad Dad Jokes onboard, which makes me happy enough to turn this on as background noise. That is to say: The Unicorn is not a great show, but it’s a lot better than your standard network half-hour comedy. The show’s also recruited Justified‘s Natalie Zea as a romantic interest, so maybe they’ll work in a Dairy Queen reference at some point, too. — Kimberly Ricci

Search Party (HBO Max)

HBO MAX

Search Party is good. No, Search Party is great. Sadly, so many people will probably never know that because it had the misfortune to live on a below-the-line network for a couple of seasons before going on a years-long hiatus and then quietly moving to HBO Max when the streamer was still in its infancy. Despite all that, Search Party is a show you should watch — for the ridiculous subplots and the brilliant performances, and the ever-changing genre of its initial whodunnit mystery. Everyone on this thing is a f*cking star and I still haven’t found a comedic bit that tops season one’s vigil set to the soothing acapella harmonies of Kelly Clarkson’s “Since You’ve Been Gone.” — Jessica Toomer

Space Force (Netflix)

Netflix

Under the radar doesn’t quite fit this show but it may have escaped your attention owing to its middling reviews. And because I have endured months of mockery from some of my peers for my love of this show, I thought it right to call it out as something worth exploring. The show is, I will admit, a little uneven and in the process of finding out what it wants to be. There’s a whole Lisa Kudrow side plot that makes no real sense. They throw a lot of talent at the screen but some of the actors and comics don’t get a chance to really do much. The ones that do get that chance, however, help to make the case that this show has great potential. Specifically, I’m talking about Jimmy O. Yang, Tawny Newsome (who also shined on Brockmire), Don Lake, and, of course, Steve Carell and John Malkovich. But I don’t want to make it sound like I’m urging you to watch season one of a show that, a few seasons down the line, people will say you should start with season two. Which is a thing that happens. Like, there are gems at the start of The Office and Parks And Rec (two shows that, like Space Force, were created by Greg Daniels) even though the best was yet to come once they better realized the formula. And the same can be said of Space Force. I don’t want to give anything away but there’s an episode-long bit involving a space monkey and a dog that demonstrates, quite perfectly, the mix of absurdity and purity of intention that drive this show at its heart and which drove those other shows too. So I guess I’m saying, it’ll get there but also, there’s enough there to jump in right now too. — Jason Tabrys

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