The only thing more perversely satisfying than loving a TV show nobody else seems to appreciate is learning that show actually has a passionate, outsized following, and the suits who canceled it must now face the fact that they were WRONG WRONG WRONG.
Some of the shows below were killed long before their time; others found a niche and lasted till their natural death date. All are paired with awesome YAs to read when your watch list runs out.
If you love Freaks & Geeks, read King Dork, by Frank Portman
Like Geek besties Sam, Neal, and Bill, King Dork‘s best friends Tom and Sam find safe haven in their mutual nerdiness. They have no ambitions to rise above geekdom, because 1) the normals are boring, and 2) they know it’s impossible. Paul Feig’s perfect depiction of unabashed adolescent weirdness is heart-tuggingly hilarious, where Portman’s is delivered with a darker bent and an awesome defiance courtesy of narrator Tom, who fakes gothy gun nut tendencies to keep bullies off his back, and spends more time dreaming up band names with bestie Sam then he does actually practicing an instrument.
If you love Veronica Mars, read Scarlett Undercover, by Jennifer Latham
Hardboiled girl detective? Check. Desperate young client with a case the police would never take? Check. Razor-sharp banter set against a small-town backdrop divided between the haves and the have nots? Double check. Chandleresque lead Veronica shares DNA with Latham’s Scarlett, a heroine whose latest case takes her down a winding path into death, cult activity, her hometown’s darkest corners, and a supernatural netherworld with an unexpected connection to her own Muslim heritage.
Bonus: Read Endangered, by Lamar Giles, also featuring a badass female protagonist armed only with her wits (and her own dark secret) facing off against a frightening adversary.
If you love My So-Called Life, read Paper Airplanes, by Dawn O’Porter
Like My So-Called Life, Paper Airplanes exists in a mid-90s world where nobody had a cellphone to be glued to, and all flirting, bullying, and bonding had to be done in person. Shy Flo and troubled wild girl Renée are soul sisters to Angela and Rayanne, forming a fierce bond while building the courage to shake off other, more disappointing friends. (I’m not implying anything, Ricky!) Both the show and the book are achingly smart at depicting the bittersweet push-pull of teenhood, when you’re not sure whether you want to be an adult to be reckoned with or a child to be tended to, and both feature
a weird appearance by Juliana Hatfield as a homeless ghost a hot-burning yet heartbreakingly delicate female friendship at their core.
If you love Six Feet Under, read The Boy in the Black Suit, by Jason Reynolds
Set largely in the Fisher family funeral home, Six Feet Under‘s sometimes surreal human dramas played out against a backdrop of mortality, with a quick death scene kicking off every episode, depicting ends that were profane, profound, frightening, mundane, or even funny. In The Boy in the Black Suit, Matt has just lost his mother to cancer…yet finds himself taking a job working at a funeral home for a two-time cancer survivor. By surrounding himself with the dead and the grieving, he learns how to live—and even fall in love—after terrible loss.
If you love Pushing Daisies, read It’s a Wonderful Death, by Sarah J. Schmitt
Pushing Daisies looks at death through wacky, Luna Lovegood-esque glasses, even making it reversible—despite certain unshakable rules around how it can be vanquished. In Schmitt’s funny, tart-tongued debut, a mean girl’s soul is accidentally harvested by a wrong-footed reaper, but afterworld bureaucracy means she might have to live with (hah) the error, waiting it out in purgatory till her actual end date rolls around…unless she can prove she’s worth the trouble by reliving key moments in her life, fixing them in such a way that she earns her right to live again.
If you love The X-Files, read Adaptation, by Malinda Lo
I’m going to second one of Sona’s picks for X-Files fans: Lo’s contemporary sci-fi thriller Adaptation. From its eerie opening scene to the ensuing road trip from hell across a stunned America—and that road trip’s twisting aftermath, which I won’t dare spoil here—it hits the same awesome-creepy spot and sense of the world as a dark, underexplored place that the best X-Files episodes do.
If you love The Twilight Zone, read Magic for Beginners, by Kelly Link
Link shares Rod Serling’s taste for spiking the mundane with a shot of weirdness, knowing that a world just a half-step out of sync with our own can be more arresting than a wholly invented place. In her second collection, Link imagines alien territories inside handbags, a new home where items become haunted one by one, and a mysterious, impossible TV show that reaches out to its biggest fan. (And if you want to really freak yourself out, go out of your way to read “The Specialist’s Hat,” the standout tale in her debut collection Stranger Things Happen. It’s got an ending that will coil up in your lizard brain and creep you out for weeks.)
If you love Deadwood, read Under a Painted Sky, by Stacey Lee
In the Gold Rush town of Deadwood, brutality is barely (or rarely) kept at bay by a compromised sheriff, and the rules of the Old West reign: might is right, greed is good, and most women are beholden to the mercy of men. In Lee’s Under a Painted Sky, Chinese American Samantha and African American Annamae are fleeing punishment for an accidental crime and slavery, respectively, and disguise themselves as boys to survive life on the perilous Oregon trail. Both feature plenty of horses, danger, and lust for gold, but Lee’s book has more to say on friendship, love, and the soul-stirring resilience of the human spirit.
Paperback $8.96 | $9.95
If you love Mystery Science Theater 3000, read Me and Earl and the Dying Girl, by Jesse Andrews
In some unspecified future, a former janitor and his robot pals are shot into space, where they’re forced to watch (and hilariously comment on) the world’s worst B movies as part of an experiment on the human capacity to withstand horrible art. In Andrews’ Me and Earl, recently made into an awesome movie, two boys inspired by classic cinema create an oeuvre of bad no-budget indies, each more transcendently terrible than the last. Like MST3k‘s central moviegoer, Andrews’ narrator takes an outsider’s view, floating among cliques and appraising them with a sociologist’s eye, without ever seeming to touch down—until his mom forces him to rekindle an old friendship with a classmate dying of cancer.