Every week, IndieWire asks a select handful of TV critics two questions and publishes the results on Tuesday. (The answer to the second, “What is the best show currently on TV?” can be found at the end of this post.)
This week’s question: Which low-rated show do you think deserves a boost of 10 million viewers?
Todd VanDerWerff (@tvoti), Vox
This is tricky, because we’re in a place where my favorite shows now last three or four seasons, then end. Would I have taken another few seasons of “Halt and Catch Fire”? To be sure. But I also don’t feel like it won’t get a chance to play out its story over four seasons and 40 episodes. That’s a good run! Similarly, “Rectify” feels as if it’s ending at just the right point, and “The Leftovers” could very easily become strained and stretched out if it ran more than three seasons. So this could be a “be careful what you wish for” kind of scenario. And that’s even before you get to all of the streaming shows, where we have no idea who’s watching them.
So I’m going to say “The Carmichael Show,” for a number of reasons. The first is that it’s one of those shows where it’s not a hit, but also not not a hit, so NBC keeps renewing it, then putting it in weird places on the schedule. The second is that this is one of the few shows on TV that discusses the political reality we all live in, but doesn’t pass judgment. It understands that the most productive political arguments are the ones undergirded by love, something Norman Lear knew back in the day but that precious few other TV shows have managed to figure out since then. And, finally, it’s a single-show defense of the fact that the multi-camera sitcom (you know, the one filmed in front of a live studio audience) can still be creatively vibrant and viable. This is an incredibly funny series, with a dynamite cast, and I think if it were a bigger hit, the country might be a better place. There. I said it.
Joyce Eng (@joyceeng61), TVGuide.com
In lieu of “Rectify” and in light of last week’s premiere date announcement, I’ll give a nod to the beautiful, provocative “The Leftovers.” The third and final season premieres in April, so you have plenty of time to catch up if you’ve never seen it. It’s never going to be everyone’s cup of tea, but the series became essential viewing in Season 2, when it departed from its source material, Tom Perrotta’s novel, and used the prism of grief to unlock a trippier, riskier and more heartbreaking mosaic of stories. Plus, there’s one mystery that will keep you up at night: Why is Justin Theroux so sweaty?
Damian Holbrook (@damianholbrook), TV Guide Magazine
Which low-rated show deserves a boost of 10 million viewers? “GOTHAM”! The show has morphed from a cleverly conceived but often flat procedural in Season 1 to a wildly entertaining comic-book joyride in Season 3. By employing Batman baddies in their formative years and actually having some fun with the writing, Fox’s series has that great mix of pop-culture cool, a great cast that keeps getting better (Cory Michael Smith as the Young Riddler and Erin Richards as Barbara Kean are heaven) and a solid base in the form of Ben McKenzie’s flawed, freaked-out Jim Gordon. Would love more people to realize that this is not the Not-Batman story they think it is anymore.
Liz Shannon Miller (@lizlet), IndieWire
Syfy’s “Incorporated” isn’t a perfect show by any stretch of the imagination, but one of the ways it excels is in creating a future America that feels awfully plausible in some respects, especially when it comes to our dwindling national resources in the face of irreversible climate change. Not enough media confronts us with the horrific notion that one day in the year 2074, bacon might be $500 a pound. And maybe more shows should.
Ben Mark Holzberg/Syfy
April Neale (@aprilmac), Monsters & Critics
Two shows tied for me that need that 10 million boost. “Horace and Pete” (LouisCK.net) and Netflix’s “Lady Dynamite.” Why? They are both skip the rules of sitcom writing and each has wonderful layers of sub-stories and incredible performances by well-known stars like Alan Alda (“Horace and Pete”) and someone who I strongly feel is a true breakout star, an Icelandic actor named Ólafur Darri Ólafsson (he’s in “Quarry” too) who is cast as Scott, Bamford’s love interest. Energetically he grabs every frame he appears in. Also, both shows aren’t afraid to go their with subjects like mental illness and life’s curve balls but not in an exploitative way.
“Horace and Pete” from C.K. is a beautiful tragicomedy, and cast with incredible actors. Louis C.K (Horace) and Steve Buscemi (Pete) are cousins who own and operate a run-down Brooklyn bar. Add Alan Alda as Uncle Pete, a comedian I adore, Steven Wright (Leon), Kurt Metzger (Kurt), Jessica Lange (Marsha) , Edie Falco (Sylvia) — and “barfly” Paul Simon, who also sings the theme song, with a dash of another great Boston comic, Nick DiPaolo who I love and feel is underutilized by Hollywood in general, well, big fucking hearts.
Equally important to laud and wish for a bigger audience (how do we know? It’s Netflix,they don’t release their viewer numbers)? Maria Bamford’s incredible comedy about her mental breakdown and life afterward in a town that could fill the DSM. She weaves her absurdist, lilting featherweight energy between Hollywood gigs and flashbacks to the psychiatric wards back home in Duluth, Minnesota. Add the brilliant work of Ana Gasteyer who is her agent, Patton Oswalt as a bike cop, Ólafsson as unlikely lover Scott and Mark McGrath in a great cameo.
Bamford’s show “Lady Dynamite” and C.K.’s “Horace and Pete” each pull back the covers on a variety of mental illnesses in ways that are appropriately funny in their scene’s context, and are, of course, heartbreaking too. Each show deserves a bigger audience. Glad Hulu picked up “H&P.”
Allison Keene (@KeeneTV), Collider
It’s tough because I think the niche subject matter of some of these great, under-viewed shows is what adds to their strength and appeal. They can be blisteringly specific and aren’t even remotely swayed by the demands of a loud and large fandom. So if I can break the rules here and split up that massive 10 million, I’d give a little each to “Rectify,” “Fleabag,” “Mozart in the Jungle,” “Catastrophe,” “Blunt Talk” and “Pitch,” to secure their futures (or in the case of “Rectify,” to give it the attention it has always been denied). If I’m not allowed to break the rules, well, any of the above deserve it!
Jackson Lee Davis/Sundance
Daniel Fienberg (@TheFienPrint), The Hollywood Reporter
Once again, there are many ways to approach this question, intellectually. Many ways. It would, for example, do no good to give “Rectify” an additional 10 million viewers, since it’s ending this week, but it’s a great show and surely deserves 10.1 million viewers as opposed to 0.1 (give or take). “The Americans” deserves more viewers than it has, but with the end two seasons away, it almost certainly is getting the ending it deserves, as will “Halt and Catch Fire,” which at least will get to craft a closing season on its own terms. “Full Frontal with Samantha Bee” deserves an additional 10 million viewers, because then one could pretend that with that additional audience, Samantha Bee could have swayed our recent election. I’m not going to waste my imaginary 10 million viewers on a Netflix show where we don’t know how many viewers it has in the first place or on a tiny HBO comedy that will probably run as long as it wants to because HBO’s interest in ratings is sporadic. I want to use my 10 million bonus viewers for good! So can I give “Pitch” the additional 5 million viewers it needs to get a second season and “American Crime” the additional 3-ish million viewers it needs to keep running as long as John Ridley has ambitious stories to tell? And then I’m going to give my last 2 million viewers to MTV’s “Sweet/Vicious,” a really nifty show that deserves the chance to grow (or to fall apart) and so far hasn’t found any kind of audience at all. I don’t care if I’m cheating. Sorry.
Alan Sepinwall (@sepinwall), HitFix
While it’s lovely to imagine a world where 10-plus million people watched every episode of “Rectify,” that show — like a lot of Peak TV — seems built for a small but fanatical audience, rather than a big one puzzled by why the main character keeps staring at stuff. So I’ll go with a show that’s going to have a long run entirely due to the largesse of its network, but that perhaps could have been a bigger hit had it aired in a slightly different time or place: “The Americans.” Not only has it been one of the very best shows on TV every year it’s aired, but it has all the core pieces you can find in more popular cable hits: exciting genre fare mashed up with intimate interpersonal drama, so that you can appreciate Philip and Elizabeth falling apart emotionally even as you also get to enjoy the catharsis of them killing and seducing their way across the Reagan ’80s. It’s a more mass appeal show that’s unfortunately always had the ratings of a niche curiosity, and I want more of the world to appreciate the majesty and wonder of Mail Robot.
Rob Owen (@RobOwenTV), Pittsburgh Post-Gazette
There are plenty of current shows that fit that criteria but I’ll opt for two that seem the most endangered. The CW’s “Crazy Ex-Girlfriend” keeps notching dangerously low ratings and yet its quality is as strong as ever, probably even stronger than it was in Season 1. It feels like “Crazy” has a fan club of merely dozens, most of them TV critic friends. I wish more viewers would get on board with this smart, funny and distinctive series before it’s too late.
I’d also nominate Fox’s “The Exorcist” because it, too, seems endangered. It’s been the most pleasant surprise of the Fall 2016 TV season, offering scares without too much gore and some surprise twists as part of its building mythology. Maybe one season will be enough and continuing with a different family in a second season wouldn’t be as rewarding but seeing what the producers have come up with so far makes me want to have the chance to find out.
Gail Pennington (@gailpennington), St. Louis Post-Dispatch
It’s my theory that shows that are low-rated are most often low-rated because they are never going to appeal to more than a narrow slice of people. They may be great, and often are, but they just aren’t for everyone. Viewers may have sampled them and just decided, nope. Some shows might be more-watched in a different context, but even if it weren’t on the CW, I don’t think “Crazy Ex-Girlfriend” or “Jane the Virgin” would ever be watched by anywhere near as many people as “NCIS.” The last show I wanted to go door-to-door and make people change their channels to sample was “Arrested Development,” but in retrospect, it was never going to be the appealing, easy-viewing show that “The Big Bang Theory” is. That said, I’d like to get “Good Girls Revolt” enough additional viewers that Amazon would feel arm-twisted into ordering a second season.
Ben Travers (@BenTTravers), IndieWire
So many of my favorites deserve such a comparably large viewership — “Rectify,” “The Americans,” and, yes, “The Leftovers,” though I’m not sure that many can handle it — but the motivating factor here shouldn’t be simply to get great television seen by more people, but also to improve their lives. That’s not to say those shows can’t help people — they all absolutely can — but, since “Parks and Recreation” is off the air, few shows are as pressing to the public consciousness as “Better Things.” Pamela Adlon’s sterling freshman season earned over 450,000 eyeballs per episode, which is almost the exact same weekly average “Louie” saw in its final season. But to spread her tolerant yet discerning perspective to 20 times that audience means that many more people will better understand the complexities of an underrepresented swath of our country: women, mothers, and daughters, in all their nuanced glory. TV does better than most other popular mediums in this regard, but we can always do better. We can all do better, for there are always better things in life to strive toward. Start here.
Eric Deggans (@deggans), NPR
I expect many of my fellow critics will say Sundance Channel’s “Rectify.” It’s a quiet meditation on the search for meaning and fulfillment in a small Southern town shook up by the circumstances surrounding a man who returns to the community after 19 years in jail for a murder he can’t remember if he committed. It’s never been highly rated, and the performances, especially by lead actor Aden Young, are subtle and powerful and worthy of a wider audience. But I’d also like to see Fox’s “Pitch” get more attention. It’s told compelling stories about the first woman to compete in Major League Baseball, salting in enough sports for fans but bringing enough drama for those who can’t tell a screwball from a slider. This may be the first time I agree with the conservative watchdogs the Parents Television Council, who have also argued Fox should move “Pitch” off Thursday nights and give this great story about a pioneering female athlete a better chance.
Q: What is the best show currently on TV?*
A: “Rectify” (7 votes)
Other contenders: “Full Frontal With Samantha Bee” (1 vote), “Gilmore Girls: A Year in the Life,” “The Great American Baking Show” (1 vote), “The Hollow Crown” (1 vote), “Mozart in the Jungle” (1 vote),
*In the case of streaming, the show must have premiered in the past month.