It is now official. There are too many shows on television. Too many comedies, dramas, miniseries, and Netflix/Amazon/Hulu originals. Trying to pick from the unending wasteland of shows any of these services provides can feel nearly impossible. I probably spend more time scrolling through all the possibilities on Netflix than I do actually watching anything.
People usually end up just choosing a show they’ve already seen because they don’t want to waste time on bad shows. Again, there aren’t enough hours in the day to watch all these shows. It’s important to dive into the morass of bad shows and emerge with a few good shows. To save you time, these are seven fantastic shows, all available through streaming, that you’re not watching.
True horror doesn’t simply scare you. The adrenaline jolt of a jumpscare, while initially terrifying, fades after a moment. Rather, true horror lingers long after the book, show, or movie ends. It stays in the back of your mind, nagging and bothering you. This nagging uneasiness occurs because as you watch or read you know that something just isn’t quite right. That underneath this facade of normalcy lurks something primordial and evil. Something that mankind does not understand, is not capable of understanding, and should not attempt to understand. That is true terror; that feeling of uneasiness and fear leaves a much more lasting impression than the adrenaline jolt of a jumpscare.
Very few films or shows can successfully create an atmosphere of horror. Penny Dreadful is one of them. It understands and utilizes an atmosphere of fear and uneasiness making it one of the best shows airing right now. Just take a look at the show’s opening theme. It’s not scary per se, rather it’s creepy and unsettling. It perfectly encapsulates the atmosphere of a good horror movie or show. Set in Victorian London, the show focuses on a small group of flawed heroes who struggle with supernatural enemies. It’s a lot like Alan Moore’s League of Extraordinary Gentlemen. Penny Dreadful seamlessly melds all the famous characters of Victorian literature, such as Victor Frankenstein and Dorian Grey, with a compelling and often frightening story. All of the actor’s are excellent, but Eva Green stands out. Simply put, she’s absolutely amazing. I honestly have no idea why she wasn’t nominated for an Emmy. And I’m not the only one asking.
Penny Dreadful airs on Showtime Sundays at 10/9 c. It’s in the midst of it’s third season and you can catch up with the Showtime app, or Showtime subscriptions with Amazon Prime or Hulu.
River is a BBC show that you can stream through Netflix. It’s a gritty, harrowing, and often depressing cop drama. However, it stands out from its peers because it takes the archetype of the “haunted detective” quite literally. Stellen Skarsgard plays the titular detective, River. River literally sees ghosts. Past victims of crimes he’s solving, as well as a bizarre historical criminal, frequently appear and talk to him. Nobody sees these “manifests” but River, and he’s spurned by his colleagues because of his erratic behavior.
Stellan Skarsgard nails the character as you watch him with a mixture of sadness and bewilderment. River’s life is pitiable and his actions often come off as extremely bizarre. Not strange enough for you to lose investment in his character, but just enough to keep your interest piqued. It’s the glimmers of happiness that Skarsgard occasionally shows that make you care for River and root for him to succeed and escape these “manifests” that keep him trapped in the past. Whenever River’s face lights up at a particular song or favorite memory, it’s like the sun finally breaking through the clouds.
River consists of five hour-long episodes, and though that sounds binge watchable, I don’t recommend it. River is not one of those shows you should binge watch. It’s very heavy and very much a downer. Each episode weighs you down and the murder mystery the plot centers around is horrifically dark. If you’re looking for a solid murder mystery and cop drama, then River is your show.
Vikings is a History channel series about the famed warriors of Scandinavia. The show centers around Ragnar Lothbrok, leader of a large group of these warriors. He discovers Europe and leads massive raids against cities in France and Britain. The show has some politicking, but it’s nowhere near Game of Thrones’ level. Rather, it has fairly obvious maneuvering and it always lines up so all the vikings will work together to raid and pillage, which I’m totally fine with. The action sequences are well done and strike a nice balance between realistic and overly gory.
Travis Fimmel excels as Ragnar Lothbrok. Ragnar is a cunning and capable leader. He clearly establishes himself as the most dangerous man in a room full of dangerous people, without having to constantly threaten or continually assert his alpha male status. Fimmel’s charisma and surprisingly nuanced performance, especially in the later seasons, carries the show and helps you ignore some of its flaws (looking at you Rollo). If you’re looking for a fun action show, definitely give Viking’s a look. It airs on the History channel and is available through Amazon Prime streaming.
Full disclosure: I’m a Paul Giamatti fan. Ever since I watched John Adams and Sideways, I try and watch any film or show he’s in. So no matter what, I was at least going to give Billions a chance. Thankfully, it’s pretty good.
Paul Giamatti plays Chuck Rhoades, an ambitious U.S. District Attorney and rising political star. Rhoades targets billionaire hedge fund manager, Bobby Axelrod, and attempts to prosecute him for insider trading. The show centers around these two powerful men; one trying to avoid prison and maintain his status as the number one trader on Wall Street, the other using every means of the law at his disposal to nail a criminal.
The acting is good. Giamatti is great as Rhoades, showing his outward confidence and bravado while slowly revealing Rhoades’s self-loathing and self destructive tendencies. Damien Lewis, of Homeland fame, is perfectly adequate as Bobby Axelrod. There’s such intensity and a need for winning no matter what the cost that Lewis portrays well. Maggie Siff, of Sons of Anarchy fame, is a pleasant surprise. Her character is stuck between these two men and Siff does a great job of trying to compartmentalize and keep the peace, until she’s forced to make a decision between the two.
If you’re looking for a semi-realistic look at corruption in the financial district and have an interest in finances, I recommend Billions. It’s not perfect, some of Rhoade’s sexual proclivities are more of a turn off than the creators intended, and the pacing can be slow, but Billions is one of those shows that is worth your time. The final conversation between the two about criminality, justice, and hard work, is philosophical and very relevant to our current society. Billions has had one season and been renewed for another. You can catch up on the Showtime app or with a Showtime subscription on Amazon Prime or Hulu.
Fortitude debuted last year on the Sky Atlantic channel. Fortitude is a tiny, seemingly perfect town in the heart of the Arctic. There’s no unemployment, there’s no crime, and everyone appears happy. Obviously that won’t last, or else it’d be a terribly boring show.
The town’s perfect facade begins to crumble, but what makes Fortitude brilliant is how it seamlessly leaps from genre to genre. It starts as a standard murder investigation, with Stanley Tucci’s English detective as the foil to the corrupt sheriff in the town. But then, it shifts from a murder investigation to an environmental disaster. Then it shifts into horror and abandons the murder focus. It’s very strange, but very enthralling. Each episode leaves you with more questions than answers and you’ll constantly make predictions that the show will soon prove wrong.. Thankfully, all questions are answered, and unlike many shows, it has an excellent conclusion.
Get past Fortitude’s initial slow pacing and you won’t be sorry. There’s only one season, but it’s 100 percent worth your time. Fortitude is one of the shows that gets its hooks in you and you can’t look away. It’s available to watch on Amazon Prime.
Peaky Blinders is easily one of the greatest shows on television. The Peaky Blinders were a gang of English criminals, named because they would line their hats with razor blades to blind their enemies. The show focuses on the family that founded the gang, the Shelbys. Led by Thomas Shelby, the family works to increase the status of their gang, rising from a local street thug to a crime family of London by the end of the second season.
The show is brilliant on all accounts. Sam Neill shines as a rough Irish investigator and Cillian Murphy is fanastic as Tommy Shelby. Murphy does a good job of keeping Shelby distant from the audience. You’re never sure what’s going on in Tommy’s head – whether he’s being benevolent out of love or some ulterior motive. Does he love his family or is he just using them? These questions and thoughts rattle in your head as you watch and Murphy leaves it entirely up to your interpretation. Birmingham, the show’s setting, feels like a character within the show. With all of its bustle, roaring factories, smoke, and general noise, Birmingham feels alive.
Peaky Blinders also has excellent guest stars, most notably Tom Hardy as a Jewish crime lord in London. He steals nearly every scene he’s in, but that’s a good thing. If you don’t believe me, just watch this hilariously dark scene.
Seasons 1 and 2 are streaming on Netflix, and the third season debuts on Netflix on May 31st. It’s also available on BBC Two.
Hannibal is a faithful adaptation of Thomas Harris’ famous horror novels. The show focuses on serial killer psychiatrist Hannibal Lecter and the FBI agent who’s hunting him, though for half of the show, no one has any idea who Hannibal really is. Mads Mikkelson plays Lecter and is a worthy successor to Anthony Hopkins. Mikkelson’s performance is strikingly different from Hopkins, but that’s a good thing. Hannibal is still hiding in plain sight, so Mikkelson’s Hannibal is more quiet and reserved, quietly enjoying the irony of feeding people his victims. And, weirdly enough, the cooking is one of the best parts of the show. Nearly every episode has some kind of cooking montage or dinner, and the food looks so delicious and elegantly prepared, you almost forget it was a person.
Hugh Dancy and Lawrence Fishburne are great as the FBI agent and FBI supervisor. Hugh Dancy does an excellent job as the conflicted Will, who loses a part of his soul with each murder he sees and killer he catches. Fishburne adds gravitas as Will’s boss, who cares for his friend but needs him to catch all the crazy serial killers. Unlike other shows about serial killers, such as Dexter, Hannibal doesn’t have much violence. Instead, Hannibal focuses on artfully displaying horrific corpses. It’s hard to explain, but here’s an example. One of the serial killers in the first season worked in a violin shop. He turned his victim into a human cello. He displayed the body center stage at a theater and stretched and treated his vocal cords, so the victim could be played like an instrument. If you don’t shudder at that image, there’s something wrong with you. That’s just one example of the horror tableau that the show uses often.
Hannibal also has two of the best season finales I’ve ever seen. The finales for seasons 2 and 3 are perfectly done and could serve as series finales if needed (because of the cancellation, the third season finale essentially is the series finale). So pour yourself a nice chianti, cook a fine meal, and watch one of the most beautiful, elegant, and terrifying television shows ever made.
This post was originally written by Patrick Dodd.