10 Most Underrated Drama TV Shows, Ranked

Estimated read time 10 min read

It’s no exaggeration to say that there’s a great deal of TV out there, maybe even too much TV for one person to take in entirely. Even narrowing things down to dramas and/or dramedies doesn’t really do much by way of narrowing, as decades upon decades of television – and countless series that span dozens or even hundreds of episodes – means that plenty of great dramas are going to fly under the radar for some.



The following TV shows all received some level of acclaim, and each aired for at least two seasons, though they all feel like they’re underrated or overlooked to some extent. Even those shows below that attracted decent-sized audiences deserved bigger and better. As such, anyone who’s up-to-date on well-known heavy hitters like The Sopranos, Breaking Bad, The Wire, and Mad Men (to name a few) might well find it worthwhile to dig slightly deeper and watch these series, too.

10 ‘Banshee’ (2013-2016)

Creators: Jonathan Tropper, David Schickler

Antony Starr in Banshee Image via Cinemax

Banshee is an odd show, sure, and not a perfect one by any means. However, it scratches an itch that few other potentially comparable crime/drama/action shows do, and it’s undeniably consistent when it comes to delivering pulpy and over-the-top entertainment. The initial premise is wonderfully simple, too, given Banshee focuses on an ex-con who assumes the identity of a recently deceased sheriff and clashes with various people from his past in a very unusual small town.

It’s a show that consistently delivers movie-quality action scenes throughout, and Banshee is certainly at its best when it’s also at its most bombastic. It might more accurately be called an “action series” rather than a “drama series,” but drama is a broad category/genre that can be applied to just about any show that isn’t a sitcom, so it’s fair to call Bansheeunderrated or underappreciated within any genre it could fall under.


Release Date January 11, 2013

Watch on Max

9 ‘Dollhouse’ (2009-2010)

Creator: Joss Whedon

Dollhouse - 2009-2010 Image via 20th Century Fox Television

Airing a few years on from the tragically short-lived Firefly, Dollhouse was also a Joss Whedon show that never quite got the longevity it might’ve needed, and also hasn’t picked up the same sort of fanbase Firefly did post-cancellation. Still, it lasted two seasons, compared to Firefly’s one season, and was also a sci-fi/drama series, though this time, revolving around an organization that turns people into blank slates (or “dolls”) that can then perform any variety of unusual tasks for wealthy clients.

Dollhouse was a bit of a slow burn, and a show with a great deal of mystery at its center, meaning that multiple seasons would’ve likely helped the story and all its reveals hit much harder. It can be frustrating to watch Dollhouse now, knowing that while it does end, it doesn’t end as well as it perhaps could have. At least there’s still an interesting enough premise and plenty of neat ideas attached to the show; more than enough to make it worth watching.


Release Date February 13, 2009

Seasons 2

Buy on Apple TV

8 ‘Orphan Black’ (2013-2017)

Creators: Graeme Manson, John Fawcett

Sarah Manning touching hands with her blonde-haired clone in 'Orphan Black.' Image via Temple Street Productions

While it was at least popular enough to inspire a spin-off, Orphan Black feels like it nevertheless deserves a little more attention than it got. It aired for a respectable five seasons between 2013 and 2017, and kicked off with an intriguing central concept: one young woman discovering a series of other people who look exactly like her, with a vast, complex conspiracy behind all of them.

As a narrative experience, Orphan Black is really just okay, as it frequently feels like it pushes things into nonsensical territory; perhaps not jumping the shark entirely, but certainly hopping over its tail a few times at least. Orphan Black is great, however, for the novelty of seeing Tatiana Maslany play numerous characters at once, with the entire show’s existence often feeling like a way for her to show off her acting talents. You will, on multiple occasions, likely forget that so many characters are played by the one actress.

Orphan Black

Release Date March 30, 2013

Seasons 5

Watch on AMC+

7 ‘The Shield’ (2002-2008)

Creator: Shawn Ryan

Vic Makey taking cover behind a car while holding a gun in The Shield Image via Sony Pictures Television

The Shield is typically recognized as a great show, and it’s not uncommon to see it ranked among the top TV drama shows of all time. Still, the 2000s was a great decade for television, and this has potentially led to The Shield not quite having the same legacy or prestige as some of the other great shows airing around the same time. It’s acclaimed, but deserves to have an even better reputation.

The fact that it had seven consistent seasons and almost 100 episodes yet only won a single Emmy is a little ridiculous. It’s very well-paced and feels as though much of it was planned out long before it came to an end, with a famously shocking opening episode setting the scene, and the consequences of what happens there continuing to affect the coming seasons, all the way until the finale. The journey from beginning to end wasn’t flawless, but The Shield starts and ends amazingly well, and most of what happens in between is similarly impressive.

The Shield

Release Date March 12, 2002

Main Genre Drama

Seasons 7

Watch on Hulu

6 ‘GLOW’ (2017-2019)

Creators: Liz Flahive, Carly Mensch

GLOW (2017 - 2019) Image via Netflix

While it’s more of a dramedy show than a straightforward drama, GLOW nevertheless does contain enough dramatic elements to work as either kind of show (it also feels like a series equivalent of a classic sports movie). It takes place during the 1980s and centers on a group of women who are part of a struggling wrestling organization. It might not be an underdog story in the way most sports-centered stories are, but it does have that kind of feel in a unique way.

While GLOW is often funny, there are serious themes and ideas explored in the show, and it does treat its characters like real people with real struggles (who also get into some humorous situations). GLOW also feels even more like an underdog/underrated show in hindsight, given that despite its acclaim and passionate fanbase, it only managed to get three seasons, never getting the opportunity to properly conclude the way it deserved.


Release Date June 23, 2017

Seasons 3

Watch on Netflix

5 ‘Justified’ (2010-2015)

Creator: Graham Yost

Rayland Givens pointing a gun at someone in Justified Image via FX Network

Justified can be linked to The Shield in a handful of ways: both were well-received while still feeling underrated to some extent, both aired on FX, and both featured Walton Goggins in a prominent supporting role. Of course, they’re also two shows that focus on distinctive lawmen, with Raylan Givens (Timothy Olyphant) being more of an anti-hero than the surprisingly villainous Vic Mackey (Michael Chiklis).

Balancing one-off episodes with some longer-form storylines to expert effect, Justified is very satisfying to watch and refreshingly no-nonsense in its approach to delivering old-fashioned drama, thrills, and some action here and there. It might not have the most complex or surprising overall narrative, but the stories contained within are still engaging, and many of the characters are fun/unique enough to make Justified worth watching for them alone.


Release Date March 16, 2010

Seasons 6

Watch on Hulu

4 ‘The Americans’ (2013-2018)

Creator: Joe Weisberg

Keri Russell and Matthew Rhys in The Americans Image via FX Network

A critical darling to be sure, The Americans was lucky to air for six seasons considering it never did amazing numbers when it came to viewers watching it live. As early as during its third season, it was already noticeable that ratings for it had dipped, and fewer and fewer people tuned in with each passing season, even though the slow-burn nature of the show made it one that continually got better and more suspenseful with each passing year.

The Americans revolves around a pair of Russian spies posing as a typical married couple in America during the 1980s, hiding in plain sight and trying to evade detection; something that gets harder for them the longer the show goes on. It was critically praised and even won its fair share of awards, but was dense and slow at times, meaning it’s not the easiest show to watch. Still, it’s more than worth sticking with, especially because of how great its sixth and final season ended up being.

Watch on Hulu

3 ‘Transparent’ (2014-2019)

Creator: Joey Soloway

The cast of the show Transparent dressed in white. Image via Amazon Prime Video

Perhaps occupying the same space genre-wise as GLOW (minus the sports angle), Transparent is another dramedy series that often feels like it leans more towards drama than comedy. Even when it’s at its funniest, it still feels it would be entirely inaccurate to call it a sitcom, as it deals with various troubled characters, explores serious themes, and can be surprisingly sad at times, too.

It revolves around a dysfunctional family and the way the members of said family find their lives changed when one of the parents comes out as transgender while in their 70s. It explores some complex ideas and situations that, at least during the 2010s, didn’t feel they were shown or explored much within fiction, and Transparent always managed to do so while being emotional, empathetic, and a little funny when it needed to be, too.


Release Date September 26, 2014

Main Genre Comedy

Seasons 4

Watch on Amazon

2 ‘Angel’ (1999-2004)

Creators: Joss Whedon, David Greenwalt

Angel - 1999-2004 Image via The WB

Always living in the shadow of its parent show, Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Angelfeels underrated because it never quite got the acclaim of that show, despite often being of comparable quality. Undeniably, both had their fair share of iconic characters, too, with Angel beginning after season 3 of Buffy, and following the titular character after he left Sunnydale (and Buffy) to begin work as a private detective in Los Angeles, dealing mostly with supernatural cases.

Angel stumbled a little in its inconsistent fourth season, but really brought it home in the fifth and final one, which still managed to be an amazing ending despite there being an expectation the show would get a sixth season. Its status as something of an underdog show that never reached the heights of the show it spun off from does make it feel at least in part underrated, and it’s essential viewing for anyone who enjoyed Buffy, given it scratches a very similar itch.


Release Date 1999-10-5

Seasons 5

Watch on Hulu

1 ‘Oz’ (1997-2003)

Creator: Tom Fontana

Oz (1997-2003) Image via HBO

Perhaps it’s understandable why Oz isn’t the kind of show that would be for everyone, considering it takes place inside a brutal maximum-security prison and most of its characters are capable of doing abhorrent things. It’s a show that pushed things so far that it’s still likely to shock and frighten anyone who watches it nowadays, and to call it the most uncompromising show of its time still feels like something of an understatement.

Even before The Sopranos, Oz was an HBO show that helped pave the way for all the groundbreaking – and very mature – cable TV dramas that received acclaim from the late 1990s onwards. It’s well-recognized for this, but deserves to be talked about in the same breath as all the other surprising and boundary-pushing HBO dramas of the late 1990s and 2000s, especially because of how it predates all the other one-hour drama narrative series on the network.


Release Date July 12, 1997

Creator Tom Fontana

Seasons 6

Watch on Max

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