Back to IndieWire

The Best Underdog Networks and Streaming Services You Should Be Watching — IndieWire Critics Survey

Here's what critics are watching beyond Netflix and HBO that deserve more love.

SundanceTV, Shudder, TruTV

“Top of the Lake: China Girl,” “Let the Right One In,” “Billy on the Street”

SundanceTV, Shudder, TruTV

IWCriticsPick

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 lesser known network or streaming service deserves more love? Why?

Damian Holbrook (@damianholbrook), TV Guide Magazine

I just wrote about this for TVInsider.com! Recently, I am obsessed with truTV, which has unleashed two of my favorite summer programs: “The Chris Gethard Show” and Andrea Savage’s perfect “I’m Sorry.” The first is the “Pee Wee’s Playhouse” of live late-night talk shows featuring the supremely likable comedian and the second, sort of a “Curb Your Enthusiasm” for suburban marrieds, FINALLY gives Savage a chance to carry a show after years of scene-stealing support. Originally designed as a true-crime network, the rebranding to comedy (and edgy comedy at that!) also gives the smaller outlet the freedom to go rogue with weirdo experimental shows like “Billy on the Street” and the upcoming “At Home with Amy Sedaris.” For that, we should all be grateful. And watching more often.

Eric Deggans (@deggans), NPR

I’d give that title to Acorn, the service that once was centered on mailing DVD and VCR tapes of British shows to fans and now streams some of the coolest TV content from Britain, Canada, Australia, New Zealand and elsewhere. With intriguing series such as the “Detectorists,” “A Place to Call Home” and “The Disappearance,” Acorn keeps providing high quality dramas from across several ponds without the profile of a Netflix or Amazon. It’s also the home for Agatha Christie shows like “Poirot”. And I also love the fact that its owned by RLJ Entertainment, the company founded by Robert Johnson, the man who once owned BET before selling it to Viacom. So it’s a nice bit of symmetry that he’s now involved with bringing some of the best shows for anglophiles to American audiences online.

"A Place Called Home"

“A Place Called Home”

Acorn

Allison Keene (@KeeneTV), Collider

Though it’s part of the AMC network, SundanceTV is a gem of a channel that never quite seems to get its due. Not only does it import an impressively curated array of international series (like “Les Revenants” and “Deutschland 83”), but it has a fantastic lineup of shows that tell stories that aren’t being told anywhere else (“The A Word,” “Rectify,” “Hap and Leonard,” “Top of the Lake”). Though some of these series have become critical darlings, I think that there’s a much bigger potential viewership that’s missing out. And when those viewers do see these series (often running later on Netflix), there’s not yet a connection to return to Sundance for more.

As both a critic and a TV fan, that channel has been a bit of a respite for me for quite some time, nearly constantly impressing me with the quality of its programming. And though many end up haphazardly finding and loving these series, the SundanceTV umbrella of programming deserves a lot more recognition.

Liz Shannon Miller (@lizlet), IndieWire

Iwan Rheon, "Misfits"

Iwan Rheon, “Misfits”

Hulu

If you subscribed to Hulu this year to watch “The Handmaid’s Tale,” I honestly think you’d be an idiot to cancel now that Season 1 is over, because its back catalog is much deeper than you might think. As just one example, the British television available includes some of modern TV’s greatest series: “Spaced,” “The IT Crowd,” “Coupling,” “Misfits,” “Absolutely Fabulous,” “The Thick of It,” “Black Books,” “A Bit of Fry and Laurie”… I could easily go on, and that’s just one subgenre of amazing TV to explore on the site.

Todd VanDerWerff (@tvoti), Vox

I’m guessing that very few people, in the aggregate, watch Sundance, but the readers of this missive almost certainly are aware of its existence. The same goes for the Acorn TVs of the world, those little streaming services that might be great gifts for parents but won’t come as surprises to the reasonably TV savvy.

But there are still some great corners of the TV world that remain largely uncovered. Here are three!

Ovation doesn’t always program stuff I’m interested in, but it’s the only non-PBS network out there dedicated to broadcasting the performing arts. And when it’s not doing that, it’s importing some good to great TV shows from other shores. It’s just nice to have a corner of the cable programming grid that focuses on being edifying.

Shudder is a surprisingly robust little horror streaming service. It’s one that I subscribed to on a lark but have found to have a pretty deep library, all things considered. And because it curates carefully, you can be sure that whatever titles it turns up will be appropriately scary.

"Nosferatu"

“Nosferatu”

Shudder

Filmstruck is by now a necessity in my house. The interface can be a little wonky, and it’s not the be-all, end-all of classic film that it could be, but every title on it is worth watching, and the fact that it’s brought together the twin services of Turner Classic Movies and the Criterion Collection means there’s always something there for any film fan, no matter how budding.

And now let me toast RFD-TV, my lil’ buddy of agricultural programming. My wife and I watched you while on our honeymoon in Puerto Rico and homesick for our Midwestern homeland.

Gail Pennington (@gailpennington), St. Louis Post-Dispatch

I’m constantly recommending Acorn to anyone who loves the British imports we used to get only from PBS. Acorn has the dark UK mysteries I love (the recent, terrific “Loch Ness” streamed on Acorn just a day after it aired on ITV) but also gentler fare, including popular series from Australia and New Zealand, and lots of classics. Acorn would be a must for me even if it weren’t also the best bargain in streaming at just $4.99 a month.

"Jeeves and Wooster"

“Jeeves and Wooster”

Acorn

Daniel Fienberg (@TheFienPrint), The Hollywood Reporter

Normally I use this space to dun the failures of other critics or mainstream viewers, but this week it’s all on me: I need to watch more of the shows premiering on Acorn and Seeso. I’ve reviewed a couple Seeso shows and they’ve been great, but it’s hard enough for me to remember what Seeso is. And Acorn has some of the best British and Australian imports going, with casts full of actors more familiar for their wooden American accents suddenly seeming charismatic and awesome with their native accents. So it’s time to watch more Acorn, Dan!

Joyce Eng (@joyceeng61), TVGuide.com

I watch Pop 90 percent of the time for reruns of my beloved “ER,” which is still not streaming anywhere (complains the person who owns the DVDs). Pop is a haven for hits from yesteryear (“Dawson’s Creek,” “Beverly Hills, 90210”), and for that we should always bow down. But their original stuff is nothing to dismiss, namely the hilariously wry “Schitt’s Creek,” one of TV’s secret weapons. And, of course, they have “Big Brother After Dark,” which is how I spend the remaining 10 percent.

"Schitt's Creek"

“Schitt’s Creek”

Pop

Ben Travers (@BenTTravers), IndieWire

I don’t know if I’m contractually obligated or morally opposed to throw some love toward FilmStruck, but since I’m much more afraid of violating the former clause than the latter, I shall echo the praise of my peers. Anyone who’s invested in multiple versions of The Criterion Collection’s gorgeous hard copies — while balking at the cost of purchasing as many titles as you’d like to watch — will be in seventh heaven perusing this expansive library of hard-to-find films and Criterion classics. (Plus, there’s exclusive Criterion bonus content, for those of you addicted to the company’s unparalleled bonus features). Toss in the option to sort titles by films and directors, and boom: It’s a valuable addition to your skinny bundle.

[One final note — and, coincidentally, another nod to a consistent IndieWire sponsor — Hulu is not “lesser known” or an “underdog” network anymore, but it is far and away the most used streaming option in my household. Because broadcast TV is far from dead, I end up watching Hulu way more than Netflix for most of the year, and it’s additional pick-ups — including “You’re the Worst” Season 3, now streaming — and top-tier originals make it more than worth the monthly fee.]

Q: What is the best show currently on TV?*

A: “Twin Peaks” and “Game of Thrones” (two votes each)

Other contenders: “Insecure,” “Last Week Tonight with John Oliver,” “The Lowe Files,” “Ozark” (one vote each)

*In the case of streaming services that release full seasons at once, only include shows that have premiered in the last month.

Stay on top of the latest TV news! Sign up for our TV email newsletter here.

This Article is related to: Television and tagged , , ,