Are you a generous person?
Do you want happier friends?
Then share the wealth!
Sometimes the most helpful shows aren’t all sunshine and rainbows.
Instead of standard, sanitized ‘inspirational’ shows, this list offers tv shows to make you think, ask deeper questions, and find yourself.
All of them are good quality and well-made, but often get overlooked, usually due to poor marketing or fading from the spotlight.
Note: I wanted to do something different than all the other TV show recommendation lists, so please read this with an open mind.
From before The Bible, or even Aesop’s Fables, humanity has evolved through ‘storytelling.’
And although I’ve read (and written) ridiculous amounts of non-fiction, including entire textbooks…
…I’m no exception.
People universally love learning, but they…
And so did I for most of my life. (Still might in fact, but it’s a much closer balance now.)
Anyway, in my life, I’ve browsed the web, forums, and subreddits for plenty of TV show recommendations.
I’ve also spent much of my career drawing, writing, researching, and editing… always with tv shows on in the background.
And so, I’ve watched more TV shows than most professional critics.
This is partly because of the above, and partly because my family were TV connoisseurs.
And that’s not all.
I’ve also read more personal development books than most self-help gurus, partly because I can speed-read.
And not to brag (or let my childhood arrogance issues rear their head), but I have terrific taste in most forms of media.
As a youngster, the neighborhood kids called me ‘The Curator.’
But what does all this mean for you?
For each show listed below…
I’ve done my best to parallel them to other shows that have a similar ‘vibe’. It’s my nod to the “If you liked [X], then you’ll enjoy [Y]” format.
Basically, they help you find tv show recommendations based on what you like.
I’ve made sure the shows span various genres and time periods. And each one has…
Some of the lessons in them overlap with one another, some of the ideas covered are unique to a certain show, but all of them are well-crafted, packed with value, and brimming with takeaways for any viewer who truly engages with them.
And speaking of engagement…
That means no watching them in the background, or on a second monitor, or while distracted.
It means pausing or rewinding if you missed something, or something went over your head, or when something deserves deeper thought.
It means thinking critically about the characters choices, putting yourself in their shoes, seeing if you’d make the same decisions, or different ones.
(Plus, some of these are the best tv shows to binge watch, ever!)
The point is, you can get a lot out of these underrated TV show recommendations, but only if you put a decent chunk of your focus and attention into them.
You don’t learn and improve by believing and copying everything you see on TV, you learn by engaging and ‘experiencing’ a story and deciding what kind of person you’d be in each character’s place.
You feel in your heart what the healthiest way to navigate the situations on screen are. You tune into your conscience to see what’s really what in these fictional universes compared to reality.
So let’s get to the self-improvement TV series list, eh?
(One more thing, people take issue with the word ‘underrated’, but it’s the closest fit for the shows I’m suggesting here, and for the audience this post is targeted towards.)
Life explores themes of resilience, growth, and humanity. Detective Charlie Crews’ makes peace with any challenges. He also digs deep into truth, and may inspire viewers to stand up for what is right.
He teaches us to appreciate the smaller things, the beauty in life, even when it’s tough, and to have empathy for, and forgive, others.
This show has a special place in my heart, because it helped me get through my dark homeless years.
I binged it multiple times in a row, and often fell asleep watching it, as I drowsed upright in a 24-hour internet cafe.
It’s also great quality and still holds up today, imho.
It may have a plot hole or two, but it’s got great actor chemistry, fun writing, and is as comfy as an old hoody, and likely would’ve run for a long time if it weren’t for the writer’s strike.
Get zen. 🙂
The clones struggle with their identities & obligations.
They feel pressured to live up to the legacies of their historical counterparts, families, and friends, but embracing individuality is the main lesson here.
Conforming to others’ expectations always falls to being accepted for who we are. It’s time to shirk expectations of others on how we’re supposed to be.
It also covers themes of impulsive actions, herd mentality, and celebrity-worship, all things many people would be wise to look into.
Warning: The original series was excellent, but the remake was poorly done, and not recommended.
This show can sometimes feel a bit heavy-handed and preachy, but I still loved it.
Having integrity when faced with hard choices is a key theme.
Bravely speaking against bad behavior, even if it’s unpopular, is a hallmark of this show.
In our society, it’s woefully under-taught and leads to massive personal growth.
Honesty and transparency is another lesson The Newsroom embodies often.
It shows that admitting mistakes and being open leads to better outcomes and a better life.
A third major theme is critical thinking and due diligence.
The Newsroom highlights the value of these things over accepting surface-level information.
And lastly, balancing idealism with realism is done well here, and it’s something you’ll have to face in your own life.
Solid performances, writing, and morality exploration here… check it out.
This is the weirdest entry on the list. Although this show is a sleeper hit with a cult following… as a ‘positive person’, I had some trouble watching it. The reason is that every character makes harmful, cringe-worthy, horrible choices almost constantly.
So why am I recommending it? Because one of the best ways to grow is to learn what not to do. And a great way to do that is watch Vic Mackey & crew, then challenge yourself to make better choices in their shoes.
Technically Vic shows epic resilience, strategizing, and quick-thinking, all things considered. And despite his mountain of flaws, it’s hard not to root for him. That said, he and The Strike Team should have read my article on mental health.
You can also learn about the misuse of power and the consequences of your actions.
(P.S. This show has one of the best finales of any show I’ve ever seen, likely beating M*A*S*H*, The Good Place, and Person Of Interest.
What does your life mean?
What does each moment passing and each choice you make mean?
Altered Carbon’s exploration of immortality gets you thinking about the moral dilemmas of living forever, and emphasizes how much our short lives matter.
It also explores class, wealth, and inequality.
Whether you’re aiming to be a rich or not, there’s a lot to unpack here. Are you responsible enough to have power? Would more power and influence corrupt you?
And let’s not forget questioning authority and social norms.
This is one of the most important things for self-improvement and personal growth ever, and the characters in Altered Carbon exemplify the importance of it.
Turn up your critical thinking and questioning the status quo in the face of injustice or oppression.
Plus it’s got a healthy dose of naked bodies, cyberpunk effects, and action sequences.
Warning: Season 2 is a massive drop in quality, and not a recommended watch.
Fresh Prince is a great look at what it means to be family, how to truly support our people, and how to form healthy bonds, despite differences or disagreements.
It teaches us what respect, generosity, and understanding looks like, and how to see other people’s perspectives, and it does it by balancing humor with drama.
During it’s run Wil, Carlton, Ashley et al face obstacles, but persevere to overcome them.
Determination, accountability, and self-belief are common topics.
Carlton’s arc is heavily about authenticity and being himself, no matter how, uh, “nerdy,” that may be.
This spreads out to cultural awareness and understanding as well, often digging deep into race issues too.
An interesting point here: Fresh Prince Of Bel-Air promotes the idea that learning and self-improvement are valuable endeavors in their own right, which is rare in most modern day shows besides The Good Place.
Plus, the show focuses on cultural awareness and tolerance.
It often explores issues related to race, class, and cultural differences.
It’s long gone off the air, but when it was on, it encouraged viewers to be open-minded, tolerant, and willing to engage in conversations about diversity and social issues.
I’ve heard Big Love called the “Breaking Bad” and “The Americans” of polygamy.
I can see that, ’cause it’s about a poly family living a secret life in suburbia, and Bill has similar behaviors to Walter White.
Learn about non-traditional choices and lifestyles.
Gain an open mind towards unconventional decisions.
Develop a habit of acceptance rather than judgment and master honest communication, especially in relationships.
This show’s great for that.
“Big Love” shows the prejudices faced by its polygamous family by mainstream society, so it encourages us to think about tolerance, acceptance, and inclusion for unfamiliar lifestyles.
And if you put yourself in the shoes of Bill or his wives, you’ll get a ton of practice making tough moral choices, (especially about the complexities of love) which will prepare you well for life in the ‘real world.’
It also the main show on this list that zooms in on gender roles across the entire series.
Well, I’m not sure about the entire series, because I stopped watching partway through, but it’s still a great show with a lot of takeaways.
Big Love is kind of over-the-top, melodramatic, and soap-opera-y… but still worth a watch with a lot of takeaways.
Person Of Interest delves into the ethics of tech, privacy, govt. surveillance and more.
A lot of personal growth comes from becoming aware of when we’re hiding things, how much we’re comfortable revealing, why, why not, and so on.
How important is freedom to you?
How much of your freedom would you trade for ‘security’, ‘protection’, and ‘safety?’
It also digs into guilt, innocence, right, wrong, and the complexity of morality.
Experience what it’s like to make truly ambiguous decisions that aren’t as simple as ‘black and white.’
Plus, if you follow John Reese & crews journeys over multiple seasons you’ll get a solid foundation on how to adapt to change and grow even when situations are changing rapidly around you.
You gain an appreciation for the value of human life and learn not to see people as ‘just numbers.’
P.S. This one had an epic final episode.
Starts strong with a great first season, slowly slides down in quality.
I stopped at Season 6 or so, but still remember it fondly and got a lot of value out of it.
It helped me imagine what I’ll do as my wealth and fame grow. It helped me envision making better choices.
Many episodes examined personal integrity vs. personal gain, consequences of ambition, the value & fragility of trust, what loyalty means, grey areas of morality, pride & humility, what it’s like to live in a corrupt capitalist society, trade-offs and compromises…
…and much more.
This nail-biting finance drama is jam-packed with fun insights.
The first few seasons (only) are highly recommended, skip the latter half.
Oh man, what can I say.
Brilliant show and every episode is brimming with gold wisdom.
It’ll give you insights on uniting through diversity, respecting the individuality of others, owning your shit, learning from failure, overcoming stereotypes, self-awareness and discovery, handling change, being a good person, and more.
And each character ends up being a mentor for the viewer in some way…
…while being hilarious at the same time.
Community is by Dan Harmon co-creator of Rick & Morty, and this show –if I was ranking them in order– would likely be #1.
I love it so much, and it’s masterfully done.
Imagine having ridiculous amounts of power.
Now imagine staying a humble person and not letting that power go to your head. OPM’s a great example of staying grounded.
Saitama also exemplifies hard work and perseverance.
Wanna be powerful? Train as consistently as Saitama, even if it’s boring or hard.
Another lesson from the show?
Physical strength isn’t everything, and that true strength often lies within.
Your character, determination, and inner strength matter, learn to cultivate them.
Not to mention how often the anime subverts ‘normal’ superhero tropes, massively opening the viewers eyes to what’s what in life and media.
OPM is one of the best shows for examining our own purpose, sense of fulfillment, and overall satisfaction in life.
External achievement doesn’t always lead to happiness.
We live in a world where profit-driven ‘big pharma’ pushes drugs, supplements, and vitamins as cures for everything.
AI is starting to take people’s jobs.
Genetically modified foods run rampant.
The Fringe digs deep into the consequences of unchecked scientific experimentation, and will get you seriously considering the ethics of what you support.
The Fringe also touts unconventional bonds and connections with unlikely individuals.
Walter and Peter Bishop teach us unconditional love and support, even when things get tough.
And Walter in particular teaches us about personal growth and making amends.
Although the show’s pseudo-science can be a bit weak, if you can get past it, The Fringe does inspire viewers to think critically and not blindly accept information or directives without examination.
Other themes are compassion, sacrifice for the greater good, and navigating change.
Some seasons are better than others but the whole run is worth a watch, imho.
Learn how to laugh at human quirks, foibles, and even tragedies.
Learn how to have a light-hearted debate or discussion with others who may disagree.
Learn how to handle different perspectives with humor.
Learn how not to take life so seriously.
Also, while 8.O.O.10.C. is comedic in nature, it often encourages viewers to think critically about the topics being discussed and the way information is presented.
Plus it can keep you up to date on pop culture and give you insights into how people in general may think about a topic (at least, in the UK.)
This is a great dark comedy about an amoral used car salesman.
Learn what happens when you do f*cked up stuff or make poor choices.
Fitz has many moments of self-reflection during the show, teaching us the power of introspection and questioning ourselves.
This show also demonstrates how helpful good relationships and support systems can be when we happen to make a mistake or two, and how important it is to respect any connections you make.
Empathy for flaws and imperfections is another major theme in Fitz, and can be learned by observing characters’ interactions and challenges.
Personal responsibility pops up here too, like in many of the other shows on this list.
As Fitz navigates his tumultuous life, he often faces the need to take responsibility for his actions. Be accountable.
Plus, Jason Priestly is an underrated actor.
An awesome look at the entrepreneurial spirit and what it means to make your way in the world on your own.
HTMIIA portrays the entrepreneur life and the drive to create something unique and meaningful.
It encourages viewers to take risks, think creatively, and persist in seizing opportunities that come their way.
Not to mention the importance of having passion.
Cancelled way too early, I say.
This quote from a redditor sums it up nicely:
“It’s one of the the shows which really humbled me and it was pleasantly surprising to say the least. The deterministic universe and its implications on human agency and free will, the ethical questions about the nature of time, causality and role of technology in shaping our lives.”
Devs is one of the best shows to explore free will vs. fate, prompting us to think on the extent our actions are pre-determined by genetics, past experiences, culture, and whether we have any true agency in shaping our destinies.
It also reminds us that any tech we use, should be accompanied by careful consideration of their potential consequences and impacts on society.
Devs also teaches us to be careful with what we think we know
Be careful being too arrogant, or jumping to conclusions, things many of us do, and could use practice avoiding.
Acceptance of harsh truths is key here.
Recognize that life is far bigger and more mysterious than you might imagine. Things that may be beyond human comprehension, and attempting to access or manipulate them could have unintended consequences.
Be careful of what you see, hear, or feel.
Be careful of your perception of reality.
Humanity, technology, morality, and more. Overall, the show’s a great example of how to stand for what you believe, in the face of tremendous pressure and odds.
Can be a bit pretentious or slow at times, but still damn good.
Performance-wise, the lead was somewhat lack-luster for me, but still watchable, it’s nice to see Nick Offerman’s buttery smooth delivery shines well beyond Parks N Rec.
How to deal with being an outcast.
How to beat trauma and turn your imperfections into blessings.
How to create your own family, even if you came from a dysfunctional one.
Doom Patrol surfaces all this and more, helping viewers to face fears and find compassion for others’ pain, as well as healing their own.
And it does all this with a beautiful blend of gritty seriousness and tongue-in-cheek humor.
Definitely underrated, and it’s lovely to see (or hear) Brendan Frasier crushing it.
A fantastic look at racism, xenophobia, and cultural understanding.
It gives you plenty to think about in how you treat other people. And unlike many shows, it often navigates conflicts and tensions via diplomacy over violence.
John Sheridan demonstrates ethical leadership, making tough decisions for the greater good while upholding one’s moral principles.
Delenn goes through arcs of redemption and forgiveness, highlighting personal growth and change. It also covers the nature of good & evil and how choices often have blurred lines.
It’s one of the few shows on this list that dig into legacy.
Some seasons are hit and miss, but J. Michael Straczynski is a great writer since the comicbook days, and I’d watch the whole thing, plus the movies, FYI.
The central theme of Entourage is the strong bond of friendship and loyalty between Vince, Eric, Drama, and Turtle.
And that loyalty is tested often by ethical dilemmas and the crucible of fame.
It shows the darker sides and irritations of success, and how great achievement can often test our integrity, but it shouldn’t come at the expense of our principles and self-respect.
We also get to see the connection between a luxurious, party-focused lifestyle, and one of work, dedication, and professionalism.
Hedonism may not be all it’s cracked up to be, so think it through.
It gets pretty silly towards the final seasons, but it’s a fun ride with plenty of takeaways in the early ones.
Side character Ari Gold, played by the recently uncancelled Jeremy Piven, steals every scene he’s in.
The Good Place shines in so many ways.
It’s entertaining and educational, emotional and provocative, humorous yet tugs at your heart-strings.
The actors are amazing, writing is great, setting is unique and brilliant, plot is fun.
It’s an intricate take on what the afterlife might be like, the meaning of our soul, and the impact of our choices in life, both big and small.
“The Good Place” challenges a black-and-white view of morality and highlights the complexity of ethical concepts.
It portrays moral decision-making as nuanced and often influenced by many factors.
The concept of becoming a better person is central to the show.
It underscores the idea that personal growth and self-improvement are ongoing processes that require effort and introspection.
Plus it focuses on the value of genuine relationships…
The relationships between the characters demonstrate the significance of genuine connections, empathy, and support.
Even more interesting, it asks…
What is happiness?
And in particular, what is happiness for you?
P.S. This is another show with an absolutely stellar finale, assuming you understood the core message and build-up of the show.
Deadwood looks like a western, but it’s so much more.
The setting, cast, writing and cinematography are all top notch and even today’s could hold it’s own with current big budget lavish projects.
It could easily compete with modern prestige drama heavy hitters.
Interestingly, due to the excessive profanity blended with elegant speeches, there are a lot of takeaways about language & communication too.
Judginess is big here too, whether it’s judging hookers, people of color, or the financially disadvantaged, or something else.
Consequences of impulsiveness.
It’s one of the few shows besides Babylon 5 to tackle legacy and memory.
The characters in “Deadwood” grapple with their own mortality and the desire to leave a lasting legacy.
This prompts us to reflect on their own lives and the impact they wish to have on others and future generations.
One more theme to explore through Deadwood is kindness and compassion.
The cast experience vulnerability, pain, and loss.
This can foster empathy and compassion in viewers as they witness the struggles and challenges faced by the characters.
Watch all seasons + the movie.
Each of these shows holds many more teachings for you, but only if you’re able to watch them with an inquisitive mind.
An a-ha moment, personally relevant to you, could be hidden in the end of Season 2.
An eye-opening revelation could be contained in a single scene.
And binge watchable tv shows like these…
…that are also jam-packed with valuable insights…
are going to be a blessing in your life.
I’ve chosen shows that will hold your attention through the bulk of their runs and that make absorbing lessons fun…
…but only your own heart, instinct, and consciousness know which shows are right for you at this time.
Because of that, it’s best for you to focus on whichever media calls to you, and to drop a show whenever it feels as if it’s not serving you, or you’ve gotten ‘enough’ value from it.
Honorable Mentions: M*A*S*H, Boy Meets World, Kings
Are you a generous person?
Do you want happier friends?
Then share the wealth!