Now that I've got the Classics and the Pretty Good Bets lists out of the way, welcome to my list of Netflix's Overlooked Gems. This was the Netflix recommendation roster I had the most fun compiling (it's not every day that having watched so much cult TV comes in handy).
Adding to the fun: This list comes with a cherry on top, in the form of some exciting news. HuffPost TV can exclusively reveal that all five seasons of the much-loved NBC spy drama "Chuck" will be available in the U.S. for streaming on Netflix on Nov. 1.
"Chuck" is a good poster child for this list, which is all about shows with fervent but smallish fan bases -- these are all shows that, for one reason or another, deserve wider attention but in many cases weren't big hits when they first aired. It truly brings me joy to recommend these kinds of shows to people who may be unfamiliar with them; if there's one thing I've become convinced of in my time as a TV critic, it's that there is a great deal of enjoyment to be found in the margins.
Once again, here are the caveats for all three lists:
- They reflect my tastes, and I'll be the first to admit I haven't seen everything on Netflix. Also, my lists of Classics, Pretty Good Bets and Overlooked Gems reflect how I'd classify these shows, and I accept that not everyone would classify them in the ways I do. No worries, these rosters are just meant as general guidelines. And if one of your overlooked favorites isn't here (and it's a scripted show that is available in full on Netflix), it may be on this Reader Recommendations roster.
I'm still a little grumpy with Syfy for canceling this X-Men-flavored tale of regular folks who learn how to work together and harness their superpowers. Watch it for the energetic (if low-budget) adventures but also for some excellent performances, particularly from David Strathairn as the group's leader and Ryan Cartwright as the charmingly blunt Gary ("Respect the badge!").
Jason Isaacs starred as two different versions of the same cop in this strange but haunting cop drama. There are images from the show's run -- especially the finale -- that still haunt my brain, and Isaacs deployed his hangdog charisma very well in the lead role.
"Better Off Ted"
The main reason you should have Netflix is to watch every episode of this absurd, terrific office comedy at least five times, as I have done. I love, love, love this show and no matter how many times I watch it, it still makes me laugh.
Don't yell at me for putting this comedy on a list of Overlooked Gems -- I know it's quite famous in the U.K., but American audiences are not as familiar with "Blackadder's" brilliance. They should be. It is a testament to my misspent youth that I can still quote so many lines from this show ("I have a cunning plan, sir!"), which followed the waspish Blackadder through history. The comedy was a great showcase for a whole generation of British actors, especially Rowan Atkinson and Hugh Laurie.
This sumptuous miniseries about rich young husband hunters negotiating the upper-class ways of Edwardian England should be catnip to "Downton Abbey" fans. Carla Gugino and Mira Sorvino are particularly wonderful as intelligent, spirited young women chafing against the limitations of the era.
If this show's arrival on Netflix makes it more than an object of cult worship, that will be a very groovy thing indeed. Equal parts comedy, romance and spy adventure, "Chuck" depicted the evolution of a nerdy Everyman into a capable hero, and despite the occasional storytelling misstep, the show's cast -- especially leads Zachary Levi and Yvonne Strahovski -- made all the big emotional developments count, and then some. One of the best parts of "Chuck" was the way it developed its goofball array of supporting characters. Who can forget Jeffster's greatest hits?
Not every episode of this long-running detective show is available on Netflix, but seven seasons is enough to get the gist. Peter Falk's rumpled detective is a TV icon for a reason: Falk has a great time playing the continually underestimated cop, and the show has genial fun watching him quietly turn the tables on his quarry. I spent much of my youth watching "Columbo" and "The Rockford Files," and though there have been many memorable TV cops since then, few have been as idiosyncratic and memorable as either of those guys.
This show took a long time to find itself, but once it did (especially in the second season), it was a typically complex and heartbreaking Whedonian affair. I still don't know why the enormously talented Enver Gjokaj is not on my television every single day. Why?
"The Forsyte Saga"
This gorgeous Victorian drama -- the 2002 version, that is -- had a cast to die for: Damian Lewis, Gina McKee, Rupert Graves, Corin Redgrave and Ioan Griffudd, among others. This well-appointed period drama may have a somewhat stately pace, but you can't go too far wrong with this cast.
It's not rocket science, but this soap about college life was fairly entertaining and went away before it could truly wear out its welcome. One big thing in "Greek's" favor: It offered non-stereotypical and thoughtful depictions of gay characters. All things considered, there was a genial generosity to "Greek" that I always appreciated (and thanks to this show, whenever I see Scott Michael Foster pop up on TV, I always shout, "Cappie!")
Here's another frothy soap that won't break your brain, one with a very able cast and a brisk pace that reflects the energy of life in an urban hotel. Granted, it has no real ambition to speak of, but "Hotel Babylon" had a dry wit and quietly acknowledged that the transient hotel lifestyle has many costs -- for guests and employees.
"Kolchak: The Night Stalker"
Can you have a sentimental attachment to a show that gave you nightmares? Strangely enough, I think you can. I have a huge amount of fondness for "Kolchak," which starred the fantastic Darren McGavin as a reporter who investigated weird crimes in Chicago. Back when it aired in the early '70s, I watched the show (and the TV movies, which are only available via DVD) and was both freaked out and drawn in by McGavin's committed performance as a regular guy in over his head. "X-Files" fans in particular will want to see where a big chunk of that show's DNA came from.
There's a lot of kids' offerings on Netflix, but this is one of my favorites. "Kipper" has a gentle spirit and a spare design and thus it is a welcome oasis in a world of overly busy and loud children's programming. I was sad when my son moved on from the adventures of Kipper, Tiger, Pig and Arnold, but if you have a kid between the ages of 2 and 6 or 7, I'm betting they'll love this show (and you may too).
Before "Homeland," Damian Lewis played another recently released prisoner whom people did not trust in this short-lived but very watchable cop drama. ("Life," "Journeyman" and "Awake" were an NBC trifecta of pretty good and short-lived cop dramas starring U.K. actors, but sadly, "Journeyman" hasn't shown up on Netflix yet.)
I'm depending on a report from my husband and son for this one: They recently finished watching this U.K. mystical adventure series and enjoyed it a lot. Finding fare that is appropriate and enjoyable for the whole family is not always that easy, but this retelling of the "Merlin" tale filled the bill in our house.
If you're the kind of TV fan who can't get enough of spy shows like "24," "Homeland," "Hunted," "Rubicon" and the like, this long-running U.K. espionage drama should be right up your dark, rainy alley. The cast changes frequently over the 10 seasons, but look for fine performances by (among others) Peter Firth, Rupert Penry-Jones, Keeley Hawes, David Oyelowo and Richard Armitage.
"The Rockford Files"
When it comes to character-driven crime dramas, "The Rockford Files" is in a class by itself. James Garner brought effortless charisma to the lead role and Rockford's laconic wit and laid-back intelligence is still influential today. Just as "Kolchak: The Night Stalker" was one of the main DNA strands that went into the creation of "The X-Files," "The Rockford Files" is one of the most important building blocks that almost every good cop/detective shows rests on.
"Saxondale" isn't well known in the U.S. (and in the U.K., it's less well known than Steve Coogan's most famous creation, the unctuous "celebrity" Alan Partridge). But if you enjoy Coogan's work, you may get a kick out of "Saxondale," a dry, observational comedy about a rock-and-roll roadie with anger issues. As for "The Trip," you don't need to be familiar with Coogan's work for it to provide many laughs. (It was released as a movie in the U.S. but the road-trip chronicle began life as a U.K. TV series, hence its inclusion on this list.) "The Trip" is a fantastic improv collaboration between Coogan, comedian Rob Brydon and director Michael Winterbottom, and it's well worth watching for this scene alone. And this scene. I'm not joking -- watching the scene below is not optional.
How often can you say of a show, "There's really nothing else like it?" This Simon Pegg comedy is considered a cult classic in the U.K., and its distinctive mix of surreal humor and nerd comedy makes it ... well, something. It's a bit of an acquired taste for me (when I watch, I sometimes think I'm not chemically altered enough to truly get it), but if it hits the spot for you, it's likely to hit the spot very hard.
"Star Trek: Deep Space Nine"
This is my favorite "Star Trek" TV series, without a doubt. Yes, it's rocky in the beginning, but its characters went through truly compelling evolutions, there were serious, lasting moral conflicts that didn't get pat resolutions at the end of each hour, and the later seasons featured a complex, emotionally resonant and thrilling war arc that had a huge influence on the reimagined "Battlestar Galactica" (Ron Moore and several other "DS9" writers went on to work on "BSG"). Every "Trek" TV series has its merits (yes, even parts of "Enterprise"), but this is the one I'm happiest to evangelize for. Not enough people have seen it, but now they can.
"The State Within"
In this well-paced U.K. miniseries, Jason Isaacs plays a U.S. ambassador caught up in a series of escalating crises. Sharon Gless acquits herself well as a U.S. diplomat in this solid political thriller.
One of the biggest heartbreaks of recent years was the loss of this show after only one season. "Terriers" very quickly established terrific chemistry between leads Donal Logue and Michael Raymond-James, and "Terriers'" sardonic yet deeply felt observations about redemption and the abuse of power were brought to brilliant life by the cast, the directors and the show's writers. Don't let the fact that there's only one season put you off; this charmingly scruffy and remarkably perceptive detective show is very much worth your time.
"The Tick" (live-action version)
There are some shows that can change your mood in a big way, and this is one: After you watch a few episodes of these surreal, goofy, big-hearted adventures, your troubles seem to melt away. Sure, I wish the animated "Tick" adventures were on Netflix too (both shows, plus the comic book they're based on, are the creation of the demented mind of "Supernatural" and Revolution" writer Ben Edlund), but I won't quibble. There isn't much of "The Tick" -- only nine episodes are on Netflix -- but what's there is nearly all pure gold.
"The Twilight Zone" (original run)
The entire five-season run of this horror-sci-fi classic isn't on Netflix, but Seasons 1 and 2 are available, and they contains many gems, including "Where Is Everybody," "The Hitch-Hiker," "The Invaders," "The Eye of the Beholder," "Time Enough At Last," "Long Distance Call," "Walking Distance," "The Monsters Are Due on Maple Street" and "A Stop at Willoughby." This anthology series provided a revealing glimpse into the late '50s/early '60s mindset (in my imagination, Ken Cosgrove from "Mad Men" has secretly been selling story ideas to "The Twilight Zone" for years). If you want to know where the storytellers in charge of many of your favorite shows and movies got their inspiration, this Rod Serling creation is a great place to start.
"Ugly Betty's" balance between melodrama and sincerity was always a hard one to pull off, and things got pretty wonky before it finally ended its run. But its first couple seasons were a real treat, with Vanessa Williams serving up prime slices of bitchiness, Michael Urie and Becki Newton displaying fine comic chops as catty magazine assistants and America Ferrera anchoring the whole thing with her smart, complex portrayal of the aspirational Betty.