11 under-the-radar series you should be watching
In the world of understatements, saying there’s a lot of television out there has to rank among the boldest. At last count, there were well over 500 scripted series. But don’t fret if you’re feeling overwhelmed. We’re here to help you the viewer and, yes, you the Television Academy voter discover some pleasures that may have slipped under your radar in the last couple of stress-filled years.
Here are 11 series — favorites of Envelope writers Randee Dawn, Gregory Ellwood, Gary Goldstein, Hugh Hart, Daron James, Michael Ordoña, Margy Rochlin and Bob Strauss — that could be worth your time.
“The Chair” is a smart, incisive comedy about higher education, university politics, the creative spirit and a host of memorable characters in need of emotional rescue. It’s all anchored by Sandra Oh’s terrific turn as the beleaguered new chair of a college English department. It speaks volumes about where we are now in a cultural — and multicultural — sense, while exploring the new guard versus the old guard and what really drives a university’s choices (apparently money and fear). —GG
‘The Cleaning Lady’
Elodie Yung as a television series lead? Yes, please! The Elektra actor sheds her Marvel costume to play Thony De La Rosa, an undocumented Cambodian doctor who finds herself entangled in the criminal underworld in the Fox drama “The Cleaning Lady.” Her captivating performance is the glue to a series that delicately navigates motherhood, the nuanced struggles of immigrants, our failing healthcare system and, for Thony, doing everything she can to avoid getting herself killed. —DJ
One brave celebrity shows up each week without a script, trying to keep a straight face while ad libbing alongside Will Arnett’s hilariously vain homicide detective Terry Seattle. En route to solving a murder, Sharon Stone assumes a German accent and gets squirted by fake blood during surgery. Ken Jeong lies down on the floor and “dies” to reconstruct a crime scene. Annie Murphy, Conan O’Brien, Kumail Nanjiani and Marshawn Lynch likewise improvise to wonderfully silly effect. —HH
“Physical” put viewers smack dab in 1981 California, with all the cultural and spiritual aspects of the early Reagan era meticulously detailed (and skewered with acerbic glee) by creator Annie Weisman. Rose Byrne’s angsty portrayal of self-sabotaging housewife turned aerobics video entrepreneur Sheila Rubin — a marvel of masked expressions, judgmental voice-overs and, yes, physical prowess — is the prime example of how well the show balances wicked satire with empathy for its characters’ psychic pain. —BS
If you’re searching for weird and wonderful humor, check out Syfy’s “Resident Alien.” The Chris Sheridan vehicle has actor Alan Tudyk playing an alien disguised as a human in small-town Colorado after a plan to destroy Earth goes awry. The layered story is packed with plenty of dark and unpredictable moments that invite extraterrestrial enthusiasts on a voyage to discover what it really means to be human. Plus, who can resist a terrifying yet cute baby alien? —DJ
A musical television series toplined by Cecily Strong and Keegan-Michael Key parodying the golden age of musicals. A cast of Broadway legends including Kristin Chenoweth, Alan Cumming, Aaron Tveit and Oscar winner Ariana DeBose having the time of their lives. Did we mention top-notch songwriting that flips the subversive musical numbers on their head? Oh, and the four-minute-long, one-shot “Tribulation” number that is one of the greatest moments of Chenoweth’s career? How this gem got lost in the pop culture vortex might be the biggest indictment of the onslaught of Peak TV we’ve seen to date. —GE
‘The Shrink Next Door’
Will Ferrell and Paul Rudd play schmendrick and schmuck to perfection in “Shrink,” proving they’re experts in finessing the all-too-human gray areas of what goes wrong when a shy, codependent fabric seller (Ferrell) meets a narcissistic psychiatrist with a celebrity fetish (Rudd). Based on a true story and podcast, “Shrink” uses aspirational class struggle among New York Jews to season a heartbreaking tale of a con man and his victim. Bonus: The supporting cast, led by Kathryn Hahn, is pure chef-kiss mwah. —RD
‘Single Drunk Female’
Hiding on teen-skewing Freeform, “Single Drunk Female,” inspired by creator Simone Finch’s own road to sobriety, instantly distinguishes itself with Sophia Black-D’Elia’s unexpectedly touching portrayal of Samantha Fink, an off-the-rails 20-something court-mandated to enter rehab. Then into the frame walks the great Ally Sheedy as Carol, her over-it mom, with whom jobless Sam is forced to move back in. Shaped by esteemed co-showrunners Jenni Konner (“Girls”) and Daisy Gardner (“30 Rock”), “Single” is a sharp, original exploration of recovery and the reluctant embrace of adulthood. —MR
At first glance, it would be easy to judge this adaptation of Jeff Lemire’s comic series as an endeavor just for kids or young teens Instead, the Jim Mickle-developed epic finds a way to bring depth and wonder to a post-apocalyptic world where half-human/half-animal children, known as hybrids, fear for their lives. The show’s two leads, the hybrid Gus (Christian Convery) and his reluctant protector, “Big Man” (Nonso Anozie), have fantastic chemistry, while the incredible prosthetic work, impressive cinematography and compelling storyline make it a moving and insatiable binge. —GE
This Emmy submission as a comedy is really a twisty sci-fi comedy-drama-mystery-romance. Surrounding the central relationship of appealing leads Andy Allo and Robbie Amell is an ensemble of funny weirdos and a world in which one’s consciousness can be “uploaded” into a virtual afterlife, essentially declining death. There’s also a murder mystery and sly commentary about income inequality and corporate greed — all in this charming hybrid created by Greg Daniels (“The Office”). —MO
‘We Are Lady Parts’
The hijab-wearing rockers in London band Lady Parts happen to be Muslims but they don’t make a big deal out of it in Nida Manzoor’s delightful comedy. Witty, fierce and fully punk, the group adds firepower when adorably dorky microbiologist-guitar player Amina Hussain (Anjana Vasan) comes on board. Overcoming vomit-level stage fright, Hussain unleashes searing solos that just might take Lady Parts to the next level. Secret weapon: original songs like “Voldemort Under My Head Scarf.” —HH
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