An Emmy nomination can’t be in the cards for every great TV series; there’s just too much good stuff out there. But if you’re looking to juice up your viewing experience, try adding one or two of these all but hidden programming gems suggested by The Envelope’s writers. And, hey, who knows, maybe Emmy will look their way this year as well.
‘Victoria,’ PBS’ ‘Masterpiece’
Masterpiece's "Victoria" series — in which the British monarch (played by Jenna Coleman) moves from coronation at age 18 through marriage to Prince Albert (Tom Hughes), motherhood, assassination attempts, contending with prime ministers and political crises — is hardly unwatched: Its second season averaged 5.2 million viewers and 4.2 million streams.
Yet it should be capturing the zeitgeist the way "Downton Abbey" did, thanks to lush production design, subtle, stellar acting from its leads and support (who have included Rufus Sewell and Diana Rigg), and a story that can be swooningly romantic (Victoria and Albert are the super-couple we all need) — and clear-eyed (politicians' and the church's appalling response to the Irish potato famine) when necessary.
But it's not just a history lesson strewn with crowns and canoodling, says creator Daisy Goodwin: "It's a real examination of what it's like to be a woman in power at a time when there are no role models for that. … She's the first working mother who is also a queen."
— Randee Dawn
‘Rick and Morty,’ Adult Swim
"Rick and Morty" has done really well with a devoted, youthful core. But more folks could and should be watching the foul-mouthed adventures of science mastermind Rick Sanchez and his adolescent grandson Morty Smith, who travel across space and time having near-death (and sometimes actual death) experiences. And there will soon be plenty to watch — earlier this month the network announced a deal for 70 new episodes.
The 2-D animation is detailed and fast-paced, and packs real science-fiction tropes into its manic story lines yet never ignores entirely the heart of the family relationships. It also can be delightfully, indulgently crude.
"I blush a little bit when physicists and astronomers credit our show with being palatable for scientific minds, because it doesn't feel earned," says Dan Harmon, who co-created the show with Justin Roiland (the latter of whom voices both Rick and Morty). "There are very smart people who have said they respect our show. It makes you want to talk them out of it because there are a lot of testicles on the show."
— Randee Dawn
‘The End of the … World,’ Netflix
After the wonderfully stylish and witty first episode of “The End of the … World,” a viewer might expect the rest of the eight-part series to simply follow teenagers James and Alyssa (played by the fantastic Alex Lawther and Jessica Barden) on a runaway road trip across the outskirts of England. James thinks he’s a psychopath and Alyssa is a borderline anarchist, but whatever high jinks ensue should wrap up neatly in some manner at the end. Thankfully, that’s not what series creator and co-director Jonathan Entwistle had in mind.
“[We’re] always looking for ways to subvert a scene with the unexpected whilst still making a show that feels real,” Entwistle says. Creating “a weird, crazy backdrop for our characters to play it straight, that's how we built the world of TEOTFW.”
A joint production of Channel 4 in the U.K. and Netflix, this adaptation of Charles Forsman’s graphic novel of the same name is more than just a suburban millennial “Bonnie and Clyde” endeavor because the kids aren’t as bad as they seem. Sure, James and Alyssa steal a car (actually they steal more than one). Yes, they might actually kill someone (but it’s in self-defense). And, fine, they rob a gas station (but desperate times call for desperate measures).
Where the series truly wins you over is with a teleplay crafted by Charlie Covell that allows each character to discover his or her truth in often the most subtle and nuanced ways. Alyssa’s father (Barry Ward) is the mess-up you’d expected, but it’s what she learns about her “annoying” mother that truly guts her. And James learns he might not be as messed up as he thinks he is. He might even be a hero.
— Gregory Ellwood
Spanning three seasons but mere months story-wise, this Netflix romantic comedy about two people (Paul Rust, Gillian Jacobs) with electric but possibly toxic chemistry is hilarious, swoon-worthy and disquieting.
“We call it a hopeful melancholy,” Rust says of the tone of “Love,” the final season of which premiered in March. Rust created the show with his wife, Lesley Arfin, and Judd Apatow. It was Apatow’s idea to chart a relationship’s start beat by beat — the key to “Love”’s distinctly intimate, addictive quality.
As Gus (Rust) becomes acquainted with Mickey (Jacobs), the camera scrutinizes every text message along with the characters. You see the nascent relationship from the perspectives of both people, who are well matched in smarts, wit and self-sabotaging instincts (she’s battling addictions; his sunny demeanor hides a temper).
Jacobs is superb here, transforming Mickey from wild child to full-fledged adult during the course of the series without losing the character’s original thread.
“We would watch Gillian do a scene, and she would do four takes and have completely different choices in each take, and they were all phenomenal,” Rust says. “We would joke, ‘Gillian’s a real actor!’”
— Carla Meyer
It’s the show where fluorescent lighting and the seemingly humdrum backdrop of a Midwestern big-box retailer make for funny — and revolutionary — TV. NBC’s “Superstore,” which features an ensemble cast that includes America Ferrera (“Ugly Betty”) and Ben Feldman (“Mad Men”), follows the day-to-day lives of employees who work at Cloud 9, which is basically TV’s nod to Walmart.
This turn on the workplace comedy doesn’t discount on topical, hot-button issues — such as immigration, healthcare concerns as a minimum-wage employee, and workplace sexual harassment, to name a few.
“When I was first writing the show, I knew that it would be about people not making a lot of money,” says creator Justin Spitzer. “It would have that blue collar component, and I hadn't seen much of that. … What we've tried to do is when an issue presents itself, run toward it, not away from it, and never in a way that feels like we're tying to teach anyone anything, but use it for comedy — try to see what relatable issues people in this environment might face.”
Airing on Thursdays against such ratings stalwarts as “The Big Bang Theory” and “Grey’s Anatomy,” “Superstore’s” third season is averaging 3.8 million total viewers, a number that rises to 5 million when delayed viewing is factored in.
— Yvonne Villarreal
‘Detectorists,’ Acorn TV
Beautiful things grow in nooks and crannies. Acorn TV, the (largely) Anglo-centric streaming channel, is where Mackenzie Crook's divine contemporary pastoral comedy "Detectorists" took root in America, back in 2015. Concerning hobbyists who graze country fields with metal detectors as they hunt for Saxon gold and find mostly buttons and pull tabs, it is lovely in a way television rarely is and deep without making a show of its depth.
The first two seasons are now available on Netflix and Hulu; the third and final season can be seen only via Acorn. "It was pointed out to me that Season 1 was broadly themed around relationships/partnerships and Season 2 around parenthood," says Crook, who wrote and directed the series, in which he stars alongside Toby Jones, Rachael Stirling and Diana Rigg.
"With the third season, I deliberately made it about finding a place where you belong, putting down roots. I knew these were to be the last six episodes and wanted to leave the characters settled, happy and with an optimistic future ahead."