One of the most overused phrases in entertainment is that we’re living in a golden age of television, but it’s not a false statement. Television has much more depth than it's ever had, takes greater risks and has the time to develop characters that consume our pop-culture conversations like never before. Now you have various demographics looking into genre that they've never touched before. For example, The Walking Dead and Game of Thrones have brought in casual TV viewers of all ages and infiltrated Facebook feeds. When viewers of different walks of life peek into each other’s brand of entertainment, then we all win, because the content expands. More shows that start with a real-world base and fold in genre elements, creating unique shows that break the old molds.
At Blastr, we typically focus on shows that are deeply rooted in the science fiction, fantasy and horror genres, especially when there’s a supernatural element in play. That last caveat is the one that trips up many shows that are grounded in the real world. Blastr staffers Ernie Estrella and Matthew Jackson take a short break from their normally scheduled coverage to look at the best shows over the past year that struggled being classified as genre, or that are flat-out shows that don't fall under our umbrella and give you reasons why they would appeal to the genre fan.
We’re also letting you know how many seasons are out there and how much time you have to catch up before new seasons begin, many of which are soon. In the comments section, let us know if we were able to convince you to check out one or more of these shows or whether you’ve gone outside genre with another show recently and enjoyed it for similar reasons you find in a typical genre affair.
Mr. Robot (USA)
Rami Malek plays Elliot Alderson, an Allsafe security engineer by day and in his off hours, member of a hacktivist group called “fsociety” whose mission is to take down one of the biggest corporations in the world, E Corp, which also happens to be Allsafe’s biggest client. The elevator pitch I would make to the sci-fi aficionado is that it’s a dream show made for the David Fincher fan, that it’s Fight Club meets Girl with a Dragon Tattoo, but that, despite plot and stylistic nods to both, you will be hooked by the tension that brews in each episode.
Real world crime fighters can get boring after awhile, but not Elliot. With his middle finger pointed at big business, extreme pessimism always on his lips and a penchant to expose fakes, he's easy to relate to, but his skills as a hacker are likely to cause some internal evaluation of the average viewers’ own computer keystrokes or have him or her consider investing in some electronic security. Elliot also suffers from severe clinical depression and social anxiety disorder, making him the unlikeliest of vigilantes and completely unreliable as our hero and narrator. While most of us will hopefully never experience anything found in a horror show, having your world turned upside down by cyberterrorists is very real and happens to a lot of people everyday. As for fsociety, it is hardly a real life version of Avengers but there’s plenty of infighting. Mr. Robot’s second season will begin this summer or fall. – Ernie Estrella
The Americans (FX)
The Americans is, technically, an alternate history of 1980s America, so I suppose you could make the case that it's a genre show already, but that's where the cred ends, so let's focus on what else it has to offer. Do you like Black Widow? How about Peggy Carter? How about James Bond? In telling the story of a pair of Soviet spies trained from early adulthood to look like, sound like, and be American citizens working undercover for the Communist cause, this intricate and thrilling series becomes a story that weaves together so many elements that genre fans love. There are elaborate schemes with the fate of governments at stake, there are gadgets, there are secret identities, and there are even adversaries so determined and dark that they sometimes feel like supervillains. And when it also carries the weight and themes of family, identity, and loyalty, The Americans brings the spy game closer to home. The fourth season begins this March. – Matthew Jackson
The exploits of Ragnar Lothbrok (Travis Fimmel), a legendary warrior and ruler during the Viking Age, and his family have made three superb seasons of television. It’s so popular that its upcoming fourth season has doubled in size to 20 episodes, but can a show on the History Channel be considered genre? That’s occasionally volleyed around in the Blastr offices because it lacks that strong supernatural element, but the limited knowledge of the 9th century does offer some chance to dabble in those realms, specifically in terms of how religion, rituals and the work of the gods played into the cultures and destiny of all civilizations. There’s an oracle named the Seer who is the connection to the Norse gods. He can look into the fate of those who come before him and translates the gods’ intentions unto the people.
Outside of that, the series plays into our fascination with the Viking culture, their rituals, and fierce domination on the battlefield. Something that is innately found in many science-fiction stories is the experience of watching a world unfold that is so different from ours, and that goes on here, too. What makes Vikings and its society so much more fascinating, though, is that it did exist, albeit not exactly as it’s told (as some of the chess pieces are different or are moved around). Hirst traverses the Viking history books and gets the culture and major points down. It is the type of show that will trigger more research into what little was written about the Vikings by Vikings and other cultures.
Fans of both Game of Thrones and Vikings can long debate which is better, but I’m particularly more drawn to how the Vikings lived and their role in shaping actual history...and let’s not forget about Ragnar’s first wife, Lagertha (Kathryn Winnick), who holds power, is a fierce warrior and an inspiration to all women and men. Season 4 premieres on February 18. – Ernie Estrella
Hannibal is already a horror series, so all it's really lacking to qualify it as something we usually cover is a supernatural element. Here's the thing, though: Thanks to the dreamlike vision of creator Bryan Fuller, the show digs so deep into psychological and visual metaphor that it's practically supernatural, already. Over the course of three seasons (yes, this one is still worth watching even though it's cancelled), Hannibal built an elaborate waking nightmare in which you're just as likely to see a humanoid stag wandering through the landscape as you are a future murder victim. It may technically be "realistic" horror, but the world of Hannibal is most certainly not our own. The third and final season ended this past summer. – Matthew Jackson
Better Call Saul (AMC)
Very few thought the story of a high school chemistry teacher turned drug lord would’ve made compelling television, but Breaking Bad eventually set the high bar for modern dramas. So, naturally, the spin-off series about the slimy lawyer who existed in that same world has caught viewers off guard, once again, as Better Call Saul has gifted us with yet another deft and complex series in the brand of creators Vince Gilligan (X-Files, The Lone Gunmen) and Peter Gould. Gilligan and Gould explored a number of ways to approach a series about Saul Goodman (Bob Odenkirk), attorney at law, but taking what we know of the character already and going far enough back in his history to find a redeeming origin story was a surprise.
How does Jimmy McGill, a loyal, blue collar guy who tried to do right repeatedly, eventually becomes a scumbag lawyer of the low society? What makes a guy change his identity to become… Saul? It’s a fascinating question that is full of ammunition to lure you in, and if you need something fantastical, Jimmy/Saul's super power is his mouth, because he manages to talk his way out of a situation and sells an idea like nobody’s business. The other marquee character Better Call Saul brought back from Breaking Bad is tough man Mike Ehrmantraut (Jonathan Banks), who is an assassin of the AARP variety. The beloved character deserved to be resurrected and provides a balance with Jimmy’s legal and personal life. Comic book fans love origins and with no wasted line of dialogue or scene, Gilligan and Gould have reinvented the way at which an origin story is told. Season 2 is set to begin this February 15. – Ernie Estrella
Halt and Catch Fire (AMC)
Like The Americans, Halt and Catch Fire is also technically an alternate history, telling a story of the history of personal computing that doesn't star someone named Jobs or Gates. If you're a tech nerd, the kind of person who really loves messing around with old Apple LISAs and Atari 2600 consoles, then the period design and jargon alone might be enough to hook you. If you need something more, know this: This is a show that understands, on a very intimate level, our relationship to technology, how immersed we've become in it, and how it all started. In the first season, we get to see the characters immerse themselves in a high-stakes journey to personal computing nirvana. In the second, we get to see the gaming revolution and how it literally changed how we interact with each other. Season 3 will move the setting to Silicon Valley and see the light later this year. – Matthew Jackson
Showrunner Ronald D. Moore (Star Trek, Battlestar Galactica) at the helm, that might be enough to convince genre fans to subscribe to Starz (hey you get Ash vs. The Evil Dead, too), but this isn’t what we’d normally expect out of him. It’s a drama that’s got more romance and Scottish history stitched into it than science-fiction and light witchcraft, but the sweeping time traveling series already has the passion for writer Diana Gabaldon and her eight Outlander novels and three novellas powering it. Much has to do with foul-mouthed Caitriona Balfe, who plays the hero, Claire Randall, a former World War II nurse who mysteriously finds herself in 1743, her dashing savior Jamie Fraser (Sam Heughan) and the villainous Black Jack Randall (Tobias Menzies) who is the ancestor of Claire’s 1946 husband. Rather than being steeped in genre, there’s just that one simple bit of time travel that sets this series so far apart from others and wisely uses other genres (romance/period pieces) to draw other crowds into what is one of the best crafted television series on air. Look for Season 2 this spring. – Ernie Estrella
Bob's Burgers (FOX)
I'm tempted to just say "trust me" when it comes to Bob's Burgers and leave it at that, but I suppose that would be a little too easy, so I have to come with something to convince you. If you're an animation fan, as so many of those of us with nerdy inclinations are, then it's quite possible that alone will be enough to get you to check out Bob's Burgers. If you need greater convincing, I'll say this: Though it purports to be the simple story of a man and his family struggling to run their little restaurant, Bob's Burgers is a show of boundless imagination. Sure, apart from the weird "What If?"-style episodes that take us into the fantasy lives of the characters, it's "realistic" in its premise, but nothing is ever simple for the Belcher family. Everything from minor fender benders to first kisses to the loss of a favorite hat becomes a towering adventure, and the world building of the show as its gone on is almost enough to make it feel like a journey into a fantasy realm with every episode. Season 6 was on hiatus during the holidays but returns this Sunday. – Matthew Jackson
Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s Sherlock Holmes has seen many incarnations on the big screen and the small screen in recent years, but the most cerebral and stylish of them all is the one created by Doctor Who showrunners Steven Moffat and Mark Gatiss. Set in present day London instead of the Victorian time period, Sherlock gives us a master detective armed with a lightning quick mind and...a cell phone. Other than that, it’s all about the performances, with Benedict Cumberbatch playing the lead and Martin Freeman's pitch perfect portrayal of Dr. John Watson. Sherlock is Batman and Data wrapped in one - he acts like a living computer, and Watson is the old curmudgeon trying to make it work. They need to put on their thinking caps (even the one with two front lids) and audience members are forced to be as intensely tuned in. If you don’t put away your phone or tablet while watching, you’ll be lost in minutes. But most importantly, genre fans are smart, they are always on the lookout for metaphors, metafiction or symbolism, so while most procedurals don’t require that much thought, Sherlock demands it of its viewers. Finally, Sherlock and Holmes are very flawed, and even though they stammer at times, they always save the day as many of our great super heroes often do. Nine 90-minute episodes have been produced (three in each season) and a fourth season will begin shooting this spring and air in 2017. – Ernie Estrella
I've said this before in other places, but it bears repeating: Fargo shouldn't have worked. Remakes of popular films stretched into television shows don't usually sound like a good idea, but Fargo wasn't even really a remake at all. It felt like a network capitalizing on the name of a popular film without the burden of using any of the characters. The crazy thing is, Fargo turned out to be really, really good. It was a strong contender for the Best Show of 2014, and then it somehow came back even better in 2015. I'll be honest with you, genre fans, this one's a bit of a stretch for me to convince you why you'll like it, not because I think you won't, but because Fargo is just such a singular show that it's hard to compare it to anything else. So, here's what I'll say: Do you like weird science fiction and stories, the kind where you literally can't predict where things will go next no matter how hard you try? Do you like those very specific, nuanced genre novels that don't play by the rules and don't reveal their twists until the perfect, precise moment? Fargo is like that. You think you've got the formula down, and then this show takes one bonkers left turn after another. Season 2 just finished and viewers will have to wait until Spring 2017 for Season 3. – Matthew Jackson