Arts and Entertainment

Binge Instead of Browse: Some of the Best Shows to Put on Your Radar

A look at some of the hidden gems streaming online right now.

Reading Time: 5 minutes

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By Laurina Xie

The “Tiger King” (2020) hype has died down. “Schitt's Creek” (2015-2020) is funny, until it’s not. And when you’ve seen “The Office” (2005-2013) about a thousand times, watching TV feels as dismal as the time Kevin dropped his pot of chili. Browsing through Netflix becomes a chore, and looking up “best TV shows” feels hopeless, with the same shows appearing over and over again. But if you’re searching for something new and exciting to binge-watch over winter break, here are 10 of the most underrated—yet excellent—shows out right now.

“Little Fires Everywhere” (Hulu)

The adaptation of Celeste Ng’s novel opens on a still of a house set on fire. At first glance, “Little Fires Everywhere” is a mystery, but the story has much more depth. Ng depicts the intertwining stories of two mothers from seemingly different lives: Elena Richardson (Reese Witherspoon), an accomplished socialite and mother of four children who prides herself on her picture-perfect life, and Mia Warren (Kerry Washington), a talented, albeit struggling, artist and single mother.

It is not a light watch, as this series focuses on issues of race, socioeconomic status, and other difficult topics other shows generally avoid. Filled with drama and unexpected plot twists, “Little Fires Everywhere” is the perfect escape from the monotony of daily life.

“Ratched” (Netflix)

Starring Sarah Paulson as the head doctor of a mental institution, Netflix’s newest horror-thriller creates a startling backstory for Nurse Mildred Ratched (from the Ken Kesey’s acclaimed novel and Miloš Forman’s film “One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest”), consisting of an abusive household, a murderous brother, and an unexpected love interest. The show shifts between her memories and the present, depicting her struggle with her humanity and identity. Paulson is perfect in this role: intimidating yet likable, and the development of her character through each episode is fulfilling. The show, with its unpredictable (and sometimes messy) plot, is engrossing and thoroughly entertaining.

“High Fidelity” (Hulu)

For everyone missing live shows and record shopping in quarantine, “High Fidelity” is an excellent substitute. In this gender-bent adaptation of Nick Hornby’s hit novel, Zoë Kravitz plays Rob, the ultimate music fan whose inner monologues make an otherwise cheesy rom-com effortlessly cool. The episodes focus on different moments in Rob’s life, recounting her “Top Five All-Time Most Memorable Heartbreaks” as well as the cultivation of her perfect playlist, which she has down to a science. The soundtrack of “High Fidelity” is the show’s pièce de résistance, perfectly matching Rob’s search for her identity, with classic tunes from David Bowie to Fleetwood Mac to Prince.

“PEN15” (Hulu)

Comedians Maya Erskine and Anna Konkle are the writers and stars of this comedy series, depicting their lives as middle schoolers in the early 2000s. The two are best friends, each other’s “rainbow gel pen in a sea of blue and black writing utensils.” From the beginning of seventh grade to their first experiences with drugs, viewers follow 13-year-old Anna and Maya, portrayed by their adult counterparts. The sometimes embarrassing, yet always endearing situations that Anna and Maya face together feel relatable and nostalgic and might make you reminisce on simpler times.

“Trinkets” Season 2 (Netflix)

Following the recent passing of her mother, Elodie (Emily Meyer) copes by shoplifting and eventually lands herself in a Shoplifters Anonymous group. There, she unexpectedly befriends two of her classmates: Moe, a cynical outcast, and Tabitha, a popular and wealthy it-girl. With their newfound friendship, the girls support each other through the ups-and-downs of teenage life. “Trinkets” is a story not only of identity and individuality, but also of finding solace and comfort in others. It is deeply relatable, even if, unlike Elodie, you've never run away from home to be a roadie.

“The Haunting of Bly Manor” (Netflix)

Though maybe not as underrated as the others, “The Haunting of Bly Manor” is a drama-horror series well worth watching. Dani Clayton (Victoria Pedretti) finds herself as an au-pair for a strange family, living in a haunted mansion with a grim history. As the series progresses, new plotlines unfold, and a multitude of creepy secrets are revealed. It may not be as scary as its inspiration, “The Haunting of Hill House,” but the relationships developed between the characters have much more depth and honesty than those of its predecessor. Despite being based on the supernatural, “The Haunting of Bly Manor” has a sincere, human touch that makes the series more powerful than expected.

“Alice in Paris” (Hulu, YouTube, Amazon)

Searching for a more authentic story of life in Paris? Alice is a twenty-something French student who arrives in Paris to put her “absolute taste” to the test. Each episode is only a few minutes and consists of a simple storyline, in which Alice experiences the city through local food. It may sound cheesy, but the series is beautifully done and features real Paris landmarks. “Alice in Paris” is the perfect show to mindlessly watch, whether you’re craving delicious French pastries or want a change from your daily scenery.

“Survivor” (Netflix)

Yes, watching a group of beautiful contestants compete in strenuous challenges without breaking a sweat may not be the most enriching activity out there, but it sure is mindless entertainment. The idea of watching 20 strangers on an island compete for $1 million may seem unappealing, even pointless, but the physical challenges, as well as the strategic component of the series, are very well done. The annoyance (or thrill) of seeing certain competitors get voted off at tribal council is weirdly mesmerizing, and despite the obvious insincerity of the production, “Survivor” is insanely addictive, hence the 40 seasons out right now.

“East Los High” (Hulu)

Finished with “Grand Army” (2020) but craving more high school drama? Head to the West Coast, where a group of Latino high schoolers deal with the difficulties of their teenage years, including violence, pregnancy, and horrible boyfriends. Though the acting is dreadfully mediocre (to say the least), the cast of characters is witty and charming. Like in “Grand Army,” the producers successfully portray what it’s like to be a high schooler in the current day, with a unique and interesting story.

“Wentworth” (Netflix)

Netflix has a multitude of prison TV dramas, but “Wentworth” is one of the best. The show takes place in a women’s high-security prison in Australia, and the first few seasons mostly follow prisoner Bea Smith as she navigates friendship, love, and violence. In contrast to “Orange Is the New Black,” (2013-2019) also on Netflix, “Wentworth” seems much more realistic; it’s gritty and vulgar and doesn’t sugarcoat the experience of prison. The series is also supported by a compelling cast of characters, whose experiences and backgrounds are explored in depth. Once you start “Wentworth,” it's hard to stop; by the fourth season, you’ll be invested in the suspenseful plot and lovable cast of characters.

Whether you love high school dramas or prison narratives, these distinctive shows may be just what you’re looking for. With the cold weather coming, now’s the perfect time to stay home, stay safe, and start what’s sure to become your new favorite series.