10 Cult TV Shows of the 2010s That Finally Found Their Audience
Series like You and One Day at a Time took a while to catch on.
There are some TV shows that manage to thrill audiences from their inception onward, still maintaining loyal fans decades later: Fox brought back The X-Files after a 14-year hiatus, and Friends enthusiasts are still begging for a reunion more than 15 years after the series finale. Then there are the series that take a while to reach viewers—including the bittersweet shows that only find the audience they so richly deserve after they've been canceled. From dramas that fans are clamoring to have resurrected to comedies that have become huge successes on streaming services, we've rounded up the cult TV shows of the 2010s that flopped before becoming hits.
Penn Badgley may have already been a TV star by the time You hit Lifetime in 2018, but even his Gossip Girl fame couldn't help this psychological thriller. The show, which centers on homicidal stalker Joe Goldberg and his relentless pursuit of a woman he's interested in, was initially picked up for a second season by Lifetime before being dropped by the network. And with good reason—with an average of only 650,000 viewers, it was hardly a golden goose.
But in finding a new home on Netflix, the show found a new audience, too. According to Netflix, in its first four weeks on the streaming service, more than 40 million users tuned in to see Joe's creepy exploits. In fact, Badgley's portrayal of the brooding sociopath garnered so much attention for the star on social media that he found himself reminding the fans lusting after his character that being stalked by someone with no moral compass is probably a whole lot less fun than they'd imagined.
There's no denying that HBO's The Leftovers had an intriguing premise: What would life be like if, out of nowhere, 140 million people vanished without a trace? That said, despite major talent, like Justin Theroux, Liv Tyler, Carrie Coon, and Christopher Eccleston, the series' inaugural season in 2014 was met with less-than-enthusiastic praise. The Los Angeles Times dubbed the first season "frustrating and unsatisfying," while Variety noted the show had a "mundane quality to it."
By the show's third season, however, it was pulling a 98 out of 100 on Metacritic, had earned an Emmy nomination for guest actress Ann Dowd, and won a Television Critics Association Award for Coon, with Vanity Fair's Richard Lawson calling the eight-episode series "deeply artful television."
In 2010, just a year after the Kardashians hit the air, there was a new group of troublemaking Californians on everyone's radar. Following the exploits of model-turned-mom Andrea Arlington and her three pseudo-socialite daughters, Tess Taylor, Alexis Neiers, and Gabby Neiers, the show was panned by critics, with the Chicago Tribune's Lindsey Romain calling it "the sick, sad song of our time" and the Los Angeles Times' Robert Lloyd portending that the show's premiere would bring Western civilization "just a little closer to its final collapse."
And yet, Alexis' involvement in the so-called "Bling Ring"—a group of burglars that robbed the rich and famous—and the subsequent movie of the same name had curious viewers suddenly clamoring for more. The proliferation of the show's most iconic scene on social media has only added to its cult appeal.
One Day at a Time
A 2017 reboot of the 1970s series of the same name, One Day at a Time tells the story of Penelope Alvarez, her two children, and their grandmother, all of whom live together in Los Angeles.
Sadly, despite critical acclaim for its portrayals of mental illness, LGBTQIA issues, and the struggles of undocumented Americans, Netflix canceled the series after three seasons. Luckily, the show had more than enough support behind it to get it noticed by other networks, with Pop picking up the series for a 13-episode fourth season.
While AMC found success with prestige dramas like Mad Men and Breaking Bad, The Killing—a 2011 American remake of the Danish series Forbrydelsen, which follows the police investigation into a teenage girl's murder—didn't quite find its footing. In fact, with a loss of more than a million viewers between the Season 1 and 2 premieres, the show found itself canceled not once but twice by AMC.
However, despite its modest fan base, the series' standout acting and critical acclaim have since earned it a new audience, with Netflix picking it up for one final season.
Premiering in 2013, NBC's Hannibal was a tense thriller with one of horror's most iconic characters at its center, and celebrated actors like Hugh Dancy, Mads Mikkelsen, and Gillian Anderson getting top billing. Despite its potential for success, the show continually bled viewers over the course of its three seasons, with average viewership dropping from 2.9 million in Season 1 to just 1.24 million by Season 3.
Thanks to a deal with Amazon Prime, though, the show has found a new audience. In 2019, the show's creator, Bryan Fuller, said, regarding a fourth season, "I've made it clear I want to do it [and] the cast wants to do it … We just need someone to bite."
The Only Way Is Essex
The Only Way Is Essex—or TOWIE, as it's known by many of its dedicated fans—didn't exactly get the warm reception from British audiences its producers hoped for. Called "beyond trash" by The Guardian, the reality show, which follows the lives of a group of UK 20-somethings as they drink and fight, pulled in under a million viewers on average during its first season, with many viewers hoping there wouldn't be any seasons to follow.
Sorry, haters: Nine years later, the show is still on the air, with many of its stars becoming bonafide celebrities across the pond. The show's 23rd season has an average of 1.12 million viewers tuning in, but even people who don't watch have surely seen Gemma Collins memes on Twitter.
It's rare for a show that struggled with ratings to have fans who are still talking about it more than six years after its last episode aired, but that's exactly what's happened with ABC's Happy Endings. The series' premise followed a familiar format—six attractive 20-something friends (ahem) living in a major city and trying to figure out what to do with their lives—but the humor was quirky and fresh.
Consistently losing viewers over the course of its run, dipping from an average of 5.04 million viewers at the start of Season 1 to just 2.83 by its third season, the show was eventually canceled by ABC. Since then, fans have been adamant about bringing it back. In fact, thanks to so many viewers begging for its return, ABC Entertainment president Karey Burke told The Hollywood Reporter that there was a "remote possibility" of the show being revived and that something was in the "very beginning [stages]" in early 2019.
Halt and Catch Fire
With AMC behind it and Lee Pace with top billing, this 1980s drama—centered around the tech industry in the wake of the personal computing revolution—had all the components necessary to be a hit. For whatever reason, the audience just wasn't there. In fact, with only 1.2 million viewers tuning in for its 2014 premiere, Halt and Catch Fire managed to have the lowest viewership in AMC's recent history. And by the premiere of the series' third season, that number had dropped to a shocking 385,000.
However, despite limited viewership, the show was a critical success and continues to command an audience in its new streaming home on Netflix, with GQ calling it an "utterly irresistible Netflix binge."
With a name like Cougar Town, this Courteney Cox-led sitcom was off to a rocky start before it even premiered. Add in its move from ABC to TBS, and the fact that its viewership dropped from an average of 7.34 million viewers in Season 1 to just 1.08 million by Season 6, and it came as little surprise that the show was canceled for good.
Thankfully, the show, which deserved more credit than it got when it was airing, has since become a cult hit with a new audience who discovered it on Hulu and Amazon Prime.