Every once in a while, there comes along a TV show that leaves you in utter shock. Masked with the typical conventions of its genre, the show warms you up with the comfortable hijinks that we’ve all grown accustomed to in television. We wait for the nonsensical conflict of the episode and its timely resolution before its end. There’s no need to worry: everything works out in a sitcom and good triumphs over evil in the superhero show. But then you keep watching, and suddenly you are pulled out of that foggy escapism you were desperate to find by clicking play. You start seeing the real world again in a strange new setting, along with real people you might even know in these wacky characters. And then the show comes to a conclusion, and you are left reconsidering everything.
Television can be at its best when it's critiquing its own worn-out tropes and addressing the many questions and issues of the world. TV should always strive to introduce new things to its audience in a creative way that will stick with them. These “subversive” programs have always been a staple in the entertainment world, with classics like The Twilight Zone and The Flintstones paving the way for innovative modern television. But as the world changes, television must also evolve and continue to address new issues. There have been many recent shows that continue to subvert and surprise (and may also make you cry). Here is a list of five of the best of these modern disruptive tv shows.
5. Doom Patrol (2019-Present)
“The World is a Beautiful, Horrible Place. It’s Spectacular.” - Rita Farr, Doom Patrol
Photo: DC Comics
These are not the heroes you want saving the day.
This show is way out there. And maybe a bit too graphic for younger viewers. Created by Jeremy Carver, Doom Patrol tells the stories of a group of dysfunctional outcasts that struggle to deal with their traumatic pasts and troubling powers. The show uses comedy and the bizarre nature of the superhero genre to explore more serious and taboo issues like sexuality and social conformity. Instead of dealing with the typical supervillain, the Doom Patrol faces off against the Bureau of Normalcy, a meddling narrator, a speaking cockroach, and much, much weirder things. But most importantly, the show focuses on its protagonists finding themselves while living in a world full of butt monsters and sentient streets.
To get a better idea of what this show can be, I would recommend watching the opening credits of the show. It does a better job of introducing the series than the trailers do.
4. The Good Place (2016-2020)
“What matters isn’t if people are good or bad. What matters is, if they’re trying to be better today than they were yesterday. You asked me where my hope comes from? That’s my answer.” – Michael, The Good Place
An exploration of death and morality... with frozen yogurt!
The Good Place, created by Michael Schur, takes place in the afterlife. Its unique and creative premise already sets it apart from other sitcoms, but it also manages to tackle high-concept ideas of moral philosophy, redemption, and human nature, while nailing the comedy and entertainment. This show is cunningly educational; I had no idea what the concept of moral dessert was until I watched this show. It is difficult to talk about the show’s depth and story without completely spoiling it. This show is filled with twists and crazy revelations at every turn. And best of all, the series is able to tell a complete and satisfying story in its four seasons, which will probably leave you in tears by the end.
To get a good spoiler-free look into the show, watch this scene from the first episode, which introduces its system of the afterlife.
3. BoJack Horseman (2014-2020)
“I Need You To Tell Me That I’m A Good Person. I Know That I Can Be Selfish And Narcissistic and Self-Destructive, But Underneath All That, Deep Down, I’m A Good Person...Tell Me That I’m Good.” - BoJack Horseman, BoJack Horseman
An alcoholic horse lives that Hollywood lifestyle.
Created by Raphael Bob-Waksberg, BoJack Horseman follows the life of BoJack Horseman (Will Arnet), a famous celebrity known for his role in a show in the 1990’s. While initially just looking like any other adult animation, the show is able to go far beyond the conventions of its genre and tell a much deeper and darker story. During the series’ six season run time, BoJack constantly struggles with depression and addiction, leaving behind a trail of destruction in the lives of anyone in his path. We are given a complete and disturbing look into the mind of a broken man (or horse), and his search for forgiveness from others and himself.
Using the limitless potential of animation and its incredible writing, the show creates some stunning sequences and episodes that set it apart from most television. The show can have an entire episode consisting of a single monologue (Free Churro, S5 EP6) while also having another episode told without any dialogue and completely reliant on its visuals (Fish Out of Water, S3 EP4). The show may start out a little generic, but it develops into one of the most sincere and heart-breaking shows in both animation and television.
I would definitely recommend watching the first opening credits of the show to get a good idea of it. It follows BoJack as he aimlessly drifts along the events in his life, which keeps changing as the show progresses.
2. The Boys (2019-Present)
“I can do whatever the fuck I want” - Homelander, The Boys
Photo: Amazon Prime Video
Maybe it's a good thing that superheroes don’t exist.
The Boys, created by Eric Kripke, explores what superheroes would really be like in the real world. Similar to Doom Patrol, The Boys can be a little too real for younger viewers. All super-powered individuals are a product of Vought International, a pharmaceutical company that now uses living superheroes to sell toys, food, entertainment, amusement parks, and other merchandise to the world. Contrary to what Vought may want you to think, these “heroes” are nothing more than reckless children given a crazy amount of power. And it's up to The Boys, a group of normal people (for the most part), to contain them.
The similarities between the world of The Boys and our own world is pretty frightening. With its incredible world-building, the show is able to comment on the current state of American society, particularly its consumerism, patriotism, and stardom. In addition, it is able to create deep and realistic characters (and I’m not just talking about The Deep) that enhance the story and political commentary. Antony Starr’s portrayal of Homelander is a character that steals the show, with his terrifying presence felt every time he appears. If you want to see Homelander in action, his speech at the Believe Expo in Season One really gives you a taste of both the character and the show as a whole (spoiler-free of course).
The Boys is really dedicated to creating a living world filled with similar content that we would find in our own society. Amazon Prime has even gone as far as to create in-universe propaganda about Vought and its heroes outside of the show. There are news reports, music videos, and even movie trailers that promote the goodness of the show’s antagonists. Out of all of these, a tribute to one of Vought’s fallen heroes has to be the funniest and most fitting addition to the canon (it only gets funnier after watching the show).
1. Community (2009-2015)
"There is skill to it. More importantly, it has to be joyful, effortless, fun. TV defeats its own purpose when it's pushing an agenda, or trying to defeat other TV or being proud or ashamed of itself for existing. It's TV; it's comfort. It's a friend you've known so well, and for so long you just let it be with you, and it needs to be okay for it to have a bad day or phone in a day, and it needs to be okay for it to get on a boat with LeVar Burton and never come back. Because eventually, it all will." - Abed Nadir, Community
The adventures of a community college study group.
Created by Dan Harmon, Community follows the lives of a group of college students attending Greendale Community College. While the show may seem like an incredibly generic sitcom, which it can be at the start of its run, it is actually an incredibly innovative and heartfelt show that has some of the strangest and most hilarious episodes in television. During its six season run, the series constantly evolves and goes through drastic changes like losing some of its leads and even the creator of the show. But Community is always able to bounce back and adapt, though it's probably a good idea to skip Season 4, otherwise known as The Gas Leak Year, when watching.
Using the plain and blank setting of a community college, the series is able to explore completely different genres and unique narratives that completely transform its world. Community goes from a show about a college to a crime mystery then to a video game then to a dictator’s regime and then into a war documentary all in one season. The show is able to use these crazy premises to tell meaningful stories about the characters and their relationships. But the show also has grounded episodes that convey the same emotion and depth that the more crazy episodes have. My favorite episode of the series is Remedial Chaos Theory (S3 EP4) is a mix of the two styles, which begins with deciding who should get the pizza. The episode branches off into seven separate realities where a different person gets the pizza each time. We are able to see the impact each person’s absence has on the group, which can get pretty out of hand even during the few moments they are gone. It shows the intricate relationships the group has with each other, along with the absurdity of the multiverse.
To get a better sense of the insanity that is Community, I would recommend watching these three clips of different episodes: the opening of Abed’s Uncontrollable Christmas (S2 EP11), a clip of the lava world in Geothermal Escapism (S5 EP5), and this hilarious action scene from Modern Warfare (S1 EP23). The show is incredibly diverse in the way it tells stories, and seeing these three very different scenes, even out of context, can give you a good sense of what the show tries to do.