Critically-Panned Fantasy Shows That Are Actually A Lot Of Fun

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Fantastical elements have been part of television since 1964’s “Bewitched” and 1965’s “I Dream of Jeannie. In the following decades, the genre’s popularity has only grown, moving beyond family-friendly sitcoms. The ’90s brought us “Hercules” and “Xena: Warrior Princess.” The 2000s ushered in the massive cultural phenomenon of “Lost.” The world of fantasy television is wonderfully expansive, featuring some of the most critically-acclaimed television — from philosophical comedies like “The Good Place” to time travel romantic dramas like “Outlander,” to high fantasy tales of intrigue and betrayal like “House of the Dragon.” For every beloved series, there’s a critically-panned fantasy flop. Every “Game of Thrones” season 1, there’s a “Game of Thrones” season 8. 

But the reviews are not the end all be all of a show’s enjoyability. After all, art is subjective. Sometimes media that didn’t work for critics can still be a great time. Even if a show was not well-received on its release, it might be the perfect binge-watch for when you want to curl up with a blanket with a snack and be swept away to another world. These 10 television shows may have been booed by many critics — each with a Metacritic average score of less than 60 — but they still make for fun watches. 

Midnight, Texas

After HBO’s “True Blood,” the sexy vampire drama based on “The Southern Vampire Mysteries” by Charlaine Harris, proved to be an incredible success, NBC decided to try their hand at a television adaptation of another Charlaine Harris series. In 2017, the network released “Midnight, Texas,” based on the book series of the same name. 

When the show was released, Scott D. Pierce of The Salt Lake Tribune described it in these words: “This is a show about a town filled with people who have supernatural powers, and yet its greatest power is to bore its viewers into TV-induced comas.” His review criticized the show for attempting to throw an array of supernatural elements together with dull and uneven results. Many critics echoed these sentiments. However, a few appreciated the ambitious messiness of “Midnight, Texas.” Lorraine Ali of the Los Angeles Times described the show as something that “sounds like a jumble of every paranormal trope from Ed Wood’s ‘Night of the Ghouls’ to HBO’s True Blood, that’s because it is, and wonderfully so.” 

“Midnight, Texas” is not the most coherent show. It is, however, a fast-paced monster-of-the-week endeavor packed with lovable weirdos and infectious tongue-in-cheek silliness. In my opinion, it’s far from dull. There are ghosts, succubi, and weretigers! Oh my! 

Motherland: Fort Salem

Similar to “Midnight, Texas,” the premise of Freeform’s “Motherland: Fort Salem” is an ambitious one. Set in an alternate world where witches escaped the witch trials by aligning themselves with the United States Government, the show follows a group of young witches training to become magical warriors. Alternate history stories can be difficult to get right. Many critics balked at the show’s execution of its bold promises. Caroline Framke of Variety noted its flaws: “Motherland combines too many ideas in order to make one wildly confusing show that, despite its insistence otherwise, struggles to understand what ’empowerment’ actually means.”

Yes, the show is uneven and unfocused. Sadly, it also frequently fails to provide coherent social commentary. However, it’s also one of the most inventive shows that Freeform has ever released. With a story and setting that feels different from any other television show, “Motherland: Fort Salem” is a unique mixture of gothic and military aesthetics. At its heart, is a wild mixture of modernity and magic with a refreshingly sex-positive attitude. Despite its flaws, “Motherland: Fort Salem” is still worth the watch. 


Don’t be fooled by the title, “NOS4A2” is not a run-of-the-mill vampire story — despite what the word “Nosferatu” brings to mind. The horror drama series follows Victoria “Vic” McQueen, a young woman with supernatural powers who faces off against Charlie Manx, a powerful immortal man responsible for a rash of missing children. He spirits these children away to a place called Christmasland. Also, he drives a Rolls-Royce Wraith (bearing the titular vanity plate) that siphons away the souls of its passengers. Slant’s Steven Scaife referred to the show as “utterly devoid of dread or menace, and its artistry fails to compensate for its otherwise complete lack of dramatic momentum.” I do agree that the show fails to be particularly scary, especially for a seasoned horror fan. But I disagree that its artistry fails to compensate for that fact. 

In my opinion, the acting is what makes the show worth watching. Ashleigh Cummings makes Vic a lovable, deeply sensitive heroine. Zachary Quinto is her perfect counterpart, giving a performance that is compelling and unsettling simultaneously. The show makes up for its cheesier moments (and questionable accents) with these two lead performances and a whole lot of originality. Sadly, AMC canceled the “NOS4A2” series after its second season, but there are still 20 episodes available to watch. If that isn’t enough, you can also check out the Joe Hill novel of the same name that the show rather faithfully follows.

Emerald City

Re-imaginings of “The Wizard of Oz” are hardly a new phenomenon. From the Syfy miniseries “Tin Man” to the Broadway musical (and soon-to-be movie) “Wicked,” audiences have been demonstrating a craving for original and mature adventures from Oz. Like the original “Wizard of Oz,” NBC’s “Emerald City” begins with Dorothy Gale (Adria Arjona) and her dog being swept away to another world by a tornado. From there, however, the similarities end. It is less technicolor Judy Garland musical and more “Game of Thrones,” and that can be a strange pairing for viewers. Meredith Blake of the Los Angeles Times called it “a turgid attempt at fantasy burdened by the weight of its own pretensions.” 

“Emerald City” is a bizarre show that feels more like the later seasons of “Once Upon a Time” and the aforementioned Westeros-based epic than its source material. The series takes itself very seriously in spite of its silly premise. But if you can let go of that judgment and really give into its glorious madness, it’s a beautifully shot, attention-grabbing ten-episode ride. 


In 2013, a film adaptation of the first book in Cassandra Clare’s young adult fantasy series “The Mortal Instruments” debuted, entitled “The Mortal Instruments: City of Bones.” The film flopped, and the production canceled its planned sequel. But that wasn’t the end for “Mortal Instruments” adaptations. In 2016, the show “Shadowhunters” premiered on Freeform, where it proceeded to run for three seasons. Reviews for the series were heavily mixed on its release, such as one by Tim Grierson of The Wrap, who wrote: “Not fun enough to be trashy and not resonant enough to make you care…Lordy, is it silly — and worse, it lacks the wit or sharp self-awareness to own up to its campiness or help make its melodramatic elements more palatable.” 

“Shadowhunters” is absolutely silly: That much cannot be denied. Although it handles itself with utmost seriousness, its story about a group of skilled demon hunters battling forces of darkness is dripping with soapy goodness. With a slick look and slowly developed characters, the show does a far better job of adapting “The Mortal Instruments” than its cinematic predecessor. If you know what you’re in for, and you’re prepared to enjoy your urban fantasy with a heaping helping of melodrama, then “Shadowhunters” is a blast. 

Carnival Row

Four years after the show’s first season, Amazon finally released a trailer for the second and final season of “Carnival Row.” The series follows Detective Rycroft Philostrate (Orlando Bloom) and faerie Vignette Stonemoss (Cara Delevingne) as they investigate murders in a steampunk neo-Victorian city. Time’s Judy Berman wrote the first negative review that ever made me want to watch a show, stating, “What is by turns a Jack the Ripper riff, an Austen-style comedy of manners and a dark political thriller (starring the great Jared Harris), with a Dickensian street gang and a fairy brothel thrown in for kicks. These story lines rarely intersect with one another or with the show’s themes of anti-imperialism and tolerance in a way that justifies the collage of references.”

“Carnival Row” absolutely contains all of those disparate elements and more. In a fantasy television landscape that becomes a bit repetitive (essentially remaking “Game of Thrones” ad infinitum), “Carnival Row” plays with faery folklore and trades a Medievel-ish setting for a Victorian-ish one. Yes, it’s a silly show, but that’s not to its detriment. The show is at its best when it leaves its clunky refugee metaphor behind and embraces being a wild whirlwind of style and mystery. 

The Secret Circle

Just as “Midnight, Texas” followed in the footsteps of “True Blood” in adapting books by the same author, The CW attempted to capture the magic of “The Vampire Diaries” for a second time with another adaptation of L.J. Smith’s work. Vampires were swapped out for witches in “The Secret Circle.” Hank Stuever of The Washington Post brought this up in his negative review of the show, saying: “Based on a book series from the same author who ginned up ‘The Vampire Diaries’ and drawing upon every market-tested trope the witchy-poo genre has to offer.”

“The Secret Circle” doesn’t reach the campy heights of its beloved sister series. But that doesn’t mean the show lacks any spellbinding qualities. The mystery of the Circle itself is compelling, and while its witches’ lore is simplistic, it’s also comfortably familiar rather than dull. The standout performances here come from teen supernatural drama royalty Shelley Hennig and Phoebe Tonkin as members of the Circle. It’s a little bit “Charmed,” a little bit “The Craft,” and a whole lot of corny fun. 


Grimm’s fairy tales are some of the oldest, and most popular, fantasy stories in history. From Little Red Riding Hood facing the wolf in the forest to Rapunzel letting down her hair for a prince, they’ve left a major cultural mark. “Grimm” takes those stories, and turns them into a procedural drama about a Detective keeping humanity safe from mythical creatures. David Hinckley of the New York Daily News criticized the melding of these two elements: “It isn’t invested deeply enough in magic to create an alternative world, and while Giuntoli (David Giuntoli) is perfectly fine as a cop, the police procedural part feels routine.”

If the mixture of fairytales and police procedurals doesn’t sound appealing, “Grimm” will not be the show for you. However, if you can get behind that seemingly incompatible genre pairing, you’ll find an addictive series that pairs creepy monsters with self-aware humor. Standout monsters-of-the-week episodes include a fly creature that feeds on tears, Krampus, and a Rat King. 

The Shannara Chronicles

Ken Tucker of Yahoo! TV described the MTV adaptation of Terry Brooks’ fantasy book series as “a lot of hooey with hotsy young actors.” I don’t know about you, but I’m perfectly fine with watching attractive people engage in a lot of magical hooey. Of course, there are fair critiques to be made of “The Shannara Chronicles.” As Tucker’s review emphasizes, the show will likely only appeal to viewers who are invested in the story of protagonist Amberle, an ambitious elf gunning for the chance to join an all-male sect dedicated to protecting an enchanted tree. If that premise doesn’t work for you, then it’s best to keep scrolling and find something else to watch. 

However, if you’re willing to put up with some dense lore (and very little helpful exposition) in exchange for magical adventures, gorgeous visuals, and a half-elf half-human played by Austin Butler, “The Shannara Chronicles” is an entertaining bit of high fantasy escapism.

The Witcher

Given the show’s massive popularity, it might be shocking to see “The Witcher” on this list. The second season of the series drew 2.2 billion viewing minutes when it premiered on Netflix. Surely it can’t be considered “critically panned!” But this tale of monster hunter Geralt of Rivia, based on the same novels that inspired the global video game sensation of the same name, really did not work for some critics. Entertainment Weekly’s Darren Franich titled his review “nakedly terrible,” and wrote: “My destiny is to never watch this borefest ever again.” The show drew unfavorable comparisons to “Game of Thrones,” with many criticizing the gratuitous nudity and convoluted plots in equal measure. 

Season 1 of “The Witcher” struggles to find its footing, asking the audience to follow it through a thick forest of expositional worldbuilding. But on the other side of that difficult journey, monster fights, bloody battles, magic, mystery, and wild adventure awaits. Unfortunately, there are no plans for Henry Cavill to return as Geralt, following his post-season 2 departure. However, showrunner Lauren Hissrich has teased season 3 storylines of “The Witcher” — including the incorporation of The Wild Hunt. 

Read this next: 14 Underrated Fantasy Shows That Deserve Your Attention

The post Critically-Panned Fantasy Shows That Are Actually A Lot of Fun appeared first on /Film.

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