For many students (myself included), winter break is the perfect opportunity to engage in some rest, relaxation, and most importantly, not moving from the couch while we watch hours of our favorite television shows. And while you could watch The Office for the 15th time, why not check out one of these hidden gems (and then watch The Office for the 15th time)?
Orphan Black– Centered around a group of clones, this sci-fi thriller explores some of the biggest scientific and ethical questions of our time through the clones’ fight to uncover the truth about their creators and their fight to survive. At times graphically violent and difficult to watch, Orphan Black manages to work in genuine heart and hilarious hijinks into every episode. Great performances abound, especially from Tatiana Maslany, who pulls off playing every single one of the show’s 12+ clones so well that you’ll constantly forget it’s her under the wigs and make-up.
Watch it on: Amazon Prime
Watch it with: Your Biology major friend who won’t stop talking about CRISPR
Jane the Virgin– With its breakneck speed and constant plot twists, this CW series will keep you clicking “next episode” for hours. The story of Jane Villanueva (Gina Rodriguez), a young woman who becomes pregnant via accidental artificial insemination, takes the shape of Jane’s favorite stories: the Spanish-language telenovelas she watches with her mother (Andrea Navedo) and her abuela (Ivonne Coll) and the romance novels she has read since she was a child. It’s an odd mixture of shocking plot twists, goofy humor, and heart-rending romantic and family drama, but it works so well you won’t be thinking about that. Bonus: if you binge it all over winter break, you’ll be caught up for the season 5 premiere in January.
Watch it on: Netflix
Watch if with: Your mom- there’s a great mother/daughter relationship at the heart of the story that will hopefully ring true to you
Crazy Ex-Girlfriend- Crazy Ex-Girlfriend is a musical. It’s actually a lot more than that, but the musical aspect of the show tends to throw people off. However, if you watch just a few of the music videos on YouTube, you may be pleasantly surprised by how well show creator and star Rachel Bloom is able to take classical musical tropes and update them for the modern world. If you’re looking for a place to start, I highly recommend “Settle for Me”, a Fred-and-Ginger style song about the realities of modern romance. Or if you prefer your musical parodies to be more modern, you might want to try “Ping-Pong Girl,” a Blink-182 style takedown of the “cool girl” trope, or “Put Yourself First,” a mockery of “self-love” anthems that inevitably push traditional beauty standards. The songs, however are just one part of what makes Crazy Ex-Girlfriend one of the best shows on television right now. There’s also some truly fearless social commentary, the most accurate depictions of mental illness you’re likely to see for a while, and genre-bending narrative shifts that will keep you on your toes constantly. It’s the kind of show that you just have to see to believe.
Watch it with: Your musical theatre nerd friend, so they can annoyingly point out all the subtle theatre references worked in throughout the show.
The Good Place- Okay, so maybe The Good Place isn’t quite so underrated anymore. But I would argue that any amount of praise for The Good Place is not enough. The show starts off with the already insane premise of following one woman, Eleanor Shellstrop (played beautifully by Kristen Bell), who has been sent to “The Good Place,” or heaven, by mistake. The show then proceeds to flip that premise on its head over and over again while also working in genuine character development, ethical debates about what it means to be a good person, and classic sitcom humor (elevated to the lofty premise of the show). It’s a lot to ask of a 30- minute sitcom episode, but The Good Place has pulled it off week after week for nearly 3 seasons now. If you haven’t been spoiled for any of the show’s mind-blowingly gutsy and brilliant plot twists, do yourself a favor and stay away from Googling the show until you’ve been caught up.
Watch it with: Your friend who’s watched The Office/Parks and Rec/Brooklyn 99 15 times (all were created by Mike Schur, who is undoubtedly doing his best work yet on The Good Place).
A Young Doctor’s Notebook and Other Stories– Despite its all-star cast (featuring Daniel Radcliffe and Jon Hamm in the lead), this BBC miniseries has stayed remarkably under the radar. Radcliffe plays a young doctor from Moscow who is sent to his first real job in a remote village in Russia during the height of the Russian Revolution. Hamm plays the future version of Radcliffe’s nameless doctor recalling his time as a young man and interfering with Radcliffe’s schemes as he wishes he could change his past mistakes. The show starts off as the darkest of dark comedies, but over its 8-episode run it becomes something much more complex, examining the life of an addict through the years. Also, Jon Hamm and Daniel Radcliffe are in a bathtub together at one point. Bonus: at just 20 minutes per episode, this is one of those shows you could conceivably watch in one afternoon.
Watch it on: Netflix
Watch it with: Your friend with the darkest sense of humor
The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel– Winning 5 Emmy awards should probably disqualify a show from the “underrated” category, but let’s be real here, have you watched it? If you have, you’ve discovered one of the most wickedly funny shows out there. The fabulous Rachel Brosnahan stars as Midge Maisel, a jilted former housewife in the 1950s who aspires to reinvent herself as a comedienne. I could probably write a novel about how perfect Rachel Brosnahan is in this show, but you should probably just see it for yourself. If you make it to Brosnahan’s absolutely brilliant stand-up routine/rant at the end of the pilot episode without falling in love with her and her sparkling performance, you’re stronger than the rest of us.
Watch it on: Amazon Prime
Watch it with: Your most John-Mulaney-obsessed friend
One Day at a Time- Netflix originals are often inconsistent in quality, but One Day at a Time is among the top tier of their original programming. This reboot of a classic sitcom is a rare “modern” sitcom to actually feel both “modern” and like a sitcom. The show manages to tackle serious issues ranging from immigration to mental health to sexism without resorting to tired clichés. Justina Machado is the true heart of the show as Penelope, a single mother and army veteran, delivering strong comedic and dramatic performances and pivoting between the two effortlessly. The incomparable Rita Moreno, however, is known to steal scenes as only Rita Moreno can, playing Penelope’s fierce, glamorous mother. If you want a show to take you from laughing to crying in less than 5 minutes, this is your show.
Watch it on: Netflix
Watch it with: The whole family