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Criminally Underrated TV Shows To Watch Over The Holiday Break

With the holiday season upon us once again it's possible — or perhaps even likely — that you'll be spending some extra time at home over Christmas and the New Year. Whether you're getting a break from school, taking a vacation from your job, or maybe just trying to avoid the Christmas madness (and your crazy relatives) by staying indoors and shuttering yourself in bed — whatever the case, you may just find yourself with some extra time to binge a new TV series or two.

Every year it seems that there's a number of great shows to watch, and you probably have no idea where to start. Sure, you could catch up on an old favorite, or check out the top 10 on your streaming service of choice. But we know you really want some recommendations to find that diamond in the rough that nobody's talking about or was hot for five minutes and now forgotten.

Well, good news, we're here to help. We've put together a list of some of the most underrated shows from the past few years that you can binge in a few sittings over your break. We've got something for everyone too: comedy, drama, horror, science fiction, even some kids' fare and a documentary. Check 'em out: you might just find something special you'd never heard of, something that went under-appreciated that you can tell your friends and family about over Christmas dinner.


Before her award-winning series "Fleabag" brought her acclaim, Phoebe Waller-Bridge wrote and directed a lesser-seen comedy based on two short plays that she had written. The two were combined to form the six-episode series "Crashing" for the BBC. A bit lighter and less weighty than the hit series that would catapult her to stardom, "Crashing" follows the exploits of Lulu, her best friend and crush Anthony, and a group of fellow 20-somethings all sharing a cheap living space in a converted hospital. It's all very bohemian, with shared communal living spaces, free love, outdoor parties, and a unique backdrop to what otherwise might be a more ordinary "Friends"-style story.

Lulu and Anthony are joined by an array of eccentric housemates like the always-aroused Sam, or Molly, the French artist who finds her muse in Colin, the divorced one — and the only older person in the building. It's a hilarious group of cohabitants, but it's not all laughs: there's plenty of drama and romance, too, with Lulu pining over her unrequited love and wondering why she can never get the things in life that make her happy. Bittersweet and inspiring, it had all the makings of a British classic if it hadn't been overshadowed by "Fleabag," which would debut later that same year. But if you like her later work, Waller-Bridge is every bit as funny and endearing here as she is there, with the same wit and charm in her role as Lulu, even if it can't quite match the brilliance of her signature series.


The first of two series on this list to last longer than two seasons, we're including it because it really is just that good. A bizarre, sometimes esoteric show, "Wilfred" boasts a brand of black comedy more along the lines of a program like "BoJack Horseman" than conventional laughfests, this one embracing the often taboo subject of mental illness. 

"The Lord of the Rings" star Elijah Wood plays Ryan Newman, a lawyer suffering from severe anxiety and depression who has hallucinations and views his neighbor's pet dog Wilfred as an adult-sized man in a furry dog suit. While his neighbor Jenna encourages the pair to spend time together, Wilfred becomes a bad influence on Newman, pushing him to do things he never ordinarily would yet also becoming a quasi-therapist to the troubled lawyer. Newman begins to open up to Wilfred and share his thoughts and struggles, ultimately leading to an unshakeable if uncomfortable bond between the man and man-in-dog-costume.

Though brilliantly written and applauded by fans for its absurdist but surprisingly frank take on mental disorders, "Wilfred" never quite found its footing in the ratings. After two seasons it was unceremoniously shipped off to lesser cable network FXX, where it thankfully was able to survive for three more excellent years. It might take your entire break to binge, but if you like your comedy black, and maybe a little bit weird, you won't regret it.

If you or someone you know is struggling with mental health, please contact the Crisis Text Line by texting HOME to 741741, call the National Alliance on Mental Illness helpline at 1-800-950-NAMI (6264), or visit the National Institute of Mental Health website.

Top of the Lake

The 2013 mystery thriller "The Top of the Lake" is another BBC production with an American star, this time Elisabeth Moss from "Mad Men" and "The Handmaid's Tale." Here Moss starred as Robin Griffin, an inexperienced Australian investigator who is visiting the New Zealand town where she grew up when she's asked to help solve a missing person's case. While reacquainting herself with her childhood home, she probes the disappearance of a young girl who had walked into a freezing glacial lake upon hearing that she was pregnant, but whose body was never found. Reunited with her teenaged love who's just returned from prison, she unwittingly begins to unearth the community's dark secrets, coming face to face with the head of the feared Mitcham crime family.

A second season arrived in 2017 and moved the series to Griffin's native Sydney, Australia, where she investigates another young girl's mysterious disappearance. The show's all-star cast included Nicole Kidman, Gwendoline Christie, Holly Hunter, and David Wenham, all delivering powerful performances in a crime drama that shined a bright spotlight on crimes and abuse towards women. The first season was met with universal acclaim, and while the second season didn't garner the same reaction, it was a worthy follow-up that again showcased Moss's incredible talent.

Making Of The Mob

If you like true crime, mob dramas, and a good history doc, this one is for you. "Making of the Mob" is a two-season docudrama that aired on AMC beginning in 2015, narrated by Ray Liotta. It mixes documentary-style interviews with riveting cinematic retellings of the real-life events as expert historians describe them, intercutting between them in long chunks that will have you begging to return to each. The dramatizations are every bit as well-written, acted and produced as any prestige format TV series, a la "Boardwalk Empire," though you'll find no big names in the casts. 

The first eight-episode season, "Making of the Mob: New York," chronicled Lucky Luciano's rise to power atop the Five Families in the Big Apple, from his start as a street punk to the ruler of the most powerful organized criminal enterprise in New York history. The second season shifted its story to Chicago, where it covered Al Capone's similar rise — and disastrous fall — as leader of the Mafia in the Windy City. In addition to history experts, Hollywood heavyweights William Forsythe, Michael Madsen, and Paul Sorvino are also interviewed. Part historical retrospective, part top-notch crime drama, it's a must-see for anyone with an interest in the history of organized crime.

Dirk Gently's Holistic Detective Agency

Another series starring Elijah Wood, this one comes to us courtesy of celebrated "Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy" author Douglas Adams, and is itself a reboot of another short-lived attempt to bring his cult classic sci-fi detective novel to television. The first, starring Steven Mangan, aired on the BBC in 2012 and ran for just four episodes, while this version managed to last a full two seasons and was co-produced by BBC America. Wood stars as the sidekick Todd to Sam Barnett's title character Dirk Gently, a "Doctor Who"-like protagonist and so-called holistic detective who solves crimes not by chasing clues, but by following the hand of fate.

Dirk Gently is a unique and puzzling investigator who believes in the "fundamental interconnectedness of all things" and uses coincidence and serendipity in place of forensics and interrogation. Todd meanwhile is the quirky Watson to Gently's Holmes, whose destiny Gently believes it was to become his assistant in solving crimes. It's a witty, clever, and eccentric comedy that could only have played in the wonderful world of British comedy, and one that was sorely overlooked here in the States despite its American star. But it has been well reviewed, even more so by viewers than critics, and deserves a look; it's one of the better detective series in recent memory, even if it's a bit more oddball than the usual mystery fare.


One of the most under-appreciated comedies of the decade, "Episodes" aired on Showtime for five seasons, despite getting only modest attention from mainstream press. It stars Steven Mangan and Tamsin Grieg as a husband and wife team of British television writers brought to Los Angeles to adapt their hit TV series for American audiences. Matt LeBlanc of "Friends" fame stars as a fictionalized version of himself, the lead actor in the writers' U.S. remake. As the couple adjust to life in the States — and in Hollywood — they are at first disdainful of the vapid American comedy star landing the lead role in their series. But the trio soon become close friends, and get into all manner of trouble on and off the set of their show.

While Mangan and Grieg are delightful and brilliant as the British imports, it's Matt LeBlanc who steals the show as Matt LeBlanc, a sarcastic, over-indulgent, pompous actor always inserting himself into matters he ought not to. It all adds up to one of the most clever and unconventional sitcoms you'll find. It received strong reviews for its sagacious writing and offbeat stories, which put the three stars into hilarious predicaments in the glitzy Hollywood world of actors, directors, and agents to which the British pair are totally unaccustomed. If you ever wanted to know what working in television was like — and want a good laugh — don't miss this one.


If you only know Christopher Meloni for his role as Detective Stabler on "Law & Order: Special Victims Unit," his turn as Nick Sax on "Happy!" may confuse you. But if you've seen him as the disturbed camp chef in "Wet Hot American Summer," you might just find him a bit more recognizable. Premiering on SyFy in 2015, the series embraced the dark humor and visceral brutality of Quentin Tarantino, mixing those with the wacky visuals and slapstick comedy of the best Chuck Jones cartoons to make something so unique and original there still is very little else out there like it.

Based on the graphic novel by Grant Morrison and Darick Robertson, "Happy!" follows the misadventures of down-on-his luck and perpetually struggling cop-turned-hitman Nick Sax, who gets the help of a talking imp named Happy — voiced by Patton Oswalt — when his daughter is kidnapped by a psycho dressed as Santa Claus. What follows is one of the most vile, violent, vulgar and vicariously fun action comedies this side of "The Boys" (which perhaps not so coincidentally was also co-created by artist Darick Robertson). The series is definitely not for the feint of heart nor for the easily offended. That it was given a second season is quite an achievement, and if you like this brand of action comedy, it'll surely be a favorite for years to come.


There have been many disappointing adaptations of Stephen King's work over the years, but "11.22.63" is definitely not one of them. Produced by J.J. Abrams, it premiered on Hulu in 2016 to some amount of fanfare thanks to its star lead James Franco, but was quickly forgotten after its debut. Whether that's because it lacked the horror elements King fans may have wanted, or was overlooked in favor of bigger, more explosive productions like "Westworld" and "Stranger Things" that also came out in 2016, it's still possibly one of the best — and most underrated — thrillers of that year.

It opens in the present, where Jake Epping is introduced to a secret time travel portal in the back of his friend's diner that leads to October 21, 1960. Discovering that the actions you take while there will affect the present day, Jake decides to make it his personal mission to stop the assassination of President John F. Kennedy. To do so, he spends years gathering evidence and investigating the people, places, and events that lead up to that tragic day, even enlisting the help of a troubled young man he befriends (played by "1917" star George MacKay). Full of mind-bending, time-skewing elements that would make even Christopher Nolan do a double take, "11.22.63" will leave you on the edge of your seat through every minute of its eight episodes.

Harper's Island

If you're looking to escape Christmas with some blood and scares, "Harper's Island" might just be what you're looking for over the break. A modern update to the classic slasher movie formula, the 13-episode miniseries sees a couple hold their wedding on the island where a series of grisly murders had shocked the community some seven years before. The murderer was a man named John Wakefield who was ultimately killed in a showdown with the town sheriff. But now with the couple's big day approaching, the murders begin again. The victims are their friends and family, and nobody knows who has picked up Wakefield's mantle or why. As the murders grip the island once again, paranoia sets in and everyone becomes a suspect. 

A story packed with questions, puzzles, and riddles that will have viewers piecing together clues in an effort to solve the crimes themselves, "Harper's Island" serves up just enough edge-of-your-seat thrills and chills to satisfy mystery and horror fans alike. Elaine Cassidy, Christopher Gorham, and Cameron Richardson lead the relatively young and mostly unknown cast, with "Battlestar Galactica" alum Callum Keith Rennie popping up as well.


If you want some all-ages fare for you and the little ones, Netflix's gorgeously animated "Hilda" is perfect to fire up for the whole family during your Christmas break. Vibrant and charming, it's positively Pixar-like in its ability to drawn in the kiddos and entertain the parents too. Centered on the titular Hilda, a rambunctious and inquisitive young girl living on the outskirts of the big city called Trolberg. Forced to adjust to her new life in the bustling metropolis, she is glad to finally live somewhere with kids her own age, but misses the droves of magical creatures she was used to befriending in the forests. 

Full of life lessons that play well for kids and their parents, it's a wonderfully inspirational, feel-good cartoon that can't possibly fail to brighten even the most cynical of viewers with its optimistic outlook and relatable story of a young girl struggling to adjust to a new life. But kids especially will be dazzled by the colorful characters and wild adventures in "Hilda" and will likely run right through all of Netflix's 26 episodes. As a bonus, a new standalone movie will hit the streamer on December 30th.


While we did say that our list would be recent shows, we'll make an exception for "Carnivale," which aired for two seasons from 2003 to 2005. Though it wasn't overlooked when it aired — it did get a fair amount of mainstream attention at the time and received good early reviews – it's been largely forgotten in the nearly two decades since. But if you want a journey through the bizarre, this two-season series is for you. A spiritual successor to "Twin Peaks," the story is set in the Dust Bowl during the Great Depression and follows a group of traveling circus performers as they cross the desolate landscape in something that's less a conventional narrative and more a metaphorical parable, a compelling and surreal tale of good vs. evil that's equal parts daydream and nightmare. 

"Carnivale" addressed heady themes in dark stories about fate vs. free will, with the fantastical imagery inherent to its setting helping to drive a complex story that left fans and critics guessing. Thought-provoking and provocative, with a dense mythology and a decidedly religious tone, "Carnivale" could sometimes be hard to decipher and somewhat challenging to wade into without help. But those who did found it a rare jaw-dropping fantasy. 

For Life

This is a gritty courtroom drama inspired by the life and story of Isaac Wright Jr., who spent nearly a decade behind bars after being wrongfully accused and convicted of being the mastermind behind New York and New Jersey's largest drug operation. While incarcerated, Wright would educate himself on the legal system, earn his law degree, and subsequently fight not only for justice for himself, but for others as well, helping to free nearly two dozen wrongfully convicted fellow inmates. He would litigate a number of cases while in jail, and when his conviction was finally overturned he would become a full-time attorney. 

"For Life," which stars English actor Nicholas Pennock as Wright and Indira Varma as the prison warden, fictionalizes the many cases argued by Wright while still in prison. The show deals not just with the cases he argues — and wins — in court but the ongoing fight to have his own case overturned. A legal procedural with an unconventional starting premise and unique protagonist, "For Life" premiered in early 2020 to great reviews, but not many viewers over the course of its run. While ABC took a chance and greenlit a second season, it would end after 23 episodes. While this meant a shorter life than it deserved, its brisk TV run makes it perfect for a Christmas break binge.