If you’re paying attention, I’ve spent the summer moving to Texas and working 80 hour weeks. But in the midst of that, I’ve made significant strides in my TV catch up. I haven’t found a show yet that I haven’t liked and some I’ve fallen head over heels for. The best thing however has been discovering sneakily amazing TV. In my opinion, you can narrow TV shows down to a few categories. Good shows that are supposed to be good, bad shows that are supposed to be bad, bad shows that are supposed to be good, and how the hell did this get on air. But every once in a while you get a show that is supposed to be awful and ends up pretty amazing.
In my experience, most of these shows are geared towards a younger demographic. Sometimes there’s less pressure there. A lot are fantasy shows. I think these shows become fantastic because no one has any expectations. Take Teen Wolf, which I’ve been watching this last week. The show is of course a teen drama on MTV based off a cheesy 80s movie. To say the expectations were low is an understatement. And in the first season, the show only rarely rose above expectations. A few cast members showed they could handle more but the show was pretty much as cheesy as you’d think. We’re talking generic Velveeta here people. But something’s happened in season 2. Teen Wolf went from a cheesy are-they-trying-too-hard show to a balls out awesome ride of insanity.
Honestly, I think the reason it has succeeded are some of the same reasons that shows like The Vampire Diaries, Dance Academy, and Pretty Little Liars are also sneakily amazing. First, the focus went back on an ensemble cast and less on one (or a few) main characters. Most shows do still need a central character but having them shoulder the entire show (except in the hands of an extremely talented actor and even then I’m questioning) is asking the audience to care about every detail. You know that feeling when you need a break from a best friend? That’s the way I feel about leads. So when a show plays to the strengths of an ensemble, especially what I call hidden weapon actors (Holland Roden, Dylan O’Brien, Candice Accola, Tom Green), it takes the pressure and focus off the lead.
Another factor is embracing the cheese. This doesn’t mean to an extreme. You have to know your show. Pretty Little Liars and Teen Wolf have a lot more Velveeta to deal with. But being a little bit meta about what you are can help remind the audience that this is still supposed to be fun. So let Damon dance around shirtless or give us a little Stiles action.
But the biggest way I think a show becomes sneakily amazing is when they decide to say ‘fuck the critics and the expectations, we’re gonna make a damn good show’. That’s the fun of low expectations. No one expects Teen Wolf to go from a fairly redundant story about a kid who isn’t sure he wants to be a werewolf to a show about psychological trauma, family, friendships, monsters, and murder. It went dark in season 2. It went intense. And somewhere along the way it became amazing.
Finally, I’m pretty sure the sneakily amazing TV shows are the ones who aren’t afraid to make some pretty strong statements. Whether it’s a feeling of abandonment and powerlessness (major ones on TVD), eating disorders, friends, family or more, these shows that surprise you tackle issues in ways that don’t feel like a lecture and you never see coming. Take Dance Academy. A death at the end of S2 comes out of the blue and is utterly heart wrenching. But the beauty of it is that it feels real. So many shows tell us multiple episodes in advance that a death is coming. We get used to the idea and while it may hurt in the moment, those feelings don’t stick. Dance Academy’s death was real though. It was random, just as many deaths are in this world, and no one really got to say goodbye.
Or take Teen Wolf, a show that is using jokes and red herrings to break some pretty major stereotypes about gay teens. I’ve got a whole other post on the awesomeness of this. These kinds of shows usually end up being my favorites. I love shows that don’t pretend they have to measure up to specific standards or stay in the box that’s created for them. Sneakily amazing shows don’t just step out of the box, they smash it to bits and never look back. So what are shows you consider sneakily amazing?