The 10 Saddest TV Shows to Watch Now

Updated June 18, 2024 • Staff

Pouring hours of your time into a series that'll just leave you feeling down sounds counterintuitive, but when they're done well, sad shows often have much to tell us about how we connect to other people. And since television allows us to get to know a wider range of characters arguably better than many films do, our personal perspectives can be challenged every which way. So here, we've compiled a list of what we think are the best of these "depressing" shows that you likely haven't seen yet. And hopefully they'll help you remember that feeling sad just means you've allowed yourself to care—and that can't be a bad thing.

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10.

Signal

From the mastermind behind Netflix's Kingdom, Kim Eun-Hee's Signal is an exhilarating series that seamlessly weaves together gripping crime thriller elements with an intriguing touch of supernatural. With its unique premise of a mysterious walkie-talkie that connects the past and the present, the show follows a team of detectives from different eras as they collaborate to solve cold cases and unravel the secrets behind unsolved crimes. The superb writing and exceptional performances by the cast, including Lee Je-hoon, Kim Hye-soo, and Cho Jin-Woong, have made Signal a major hit among K-Drama fans. 

Our staff rating: 8.5/10
Genre: Crime, Mystery, Sci-Fi & Fantasy
Actor: Cho Jin-woong, Choi Woo-ri, Hae-Kyun Jung, Hye-su Kim, Hyun-sung Jang, Im Hwa-young, Jang Hyun-sung, Je-hoon Lee, Jeong Hae-gyoon, Jin-woong Cho, Jin-woong Jo, Jung Hae-kyun, Jung Han-bi, Kang Chan-hee, Kim Hye-soo, Kim Hye-su, Kim Ki-chun, Kim Min-gue, Kim Won-hae, Lee Dong-ha, Lee Je-hoon, Lee Sang-yeob, Lee Si-a, Lee Yoo-jun, Lee Yu-jun, Park Si-eun, Seo Eun-ah, Son Hyeon-ju, Son Hyun-joo, Won-hae Kim
Director: Kim Won-suk
Rating: N/A
9.

Phoenix: Eden17

Based on an arc of the classic Space Age manga, Phoenix: Eden17 reimagines the future of space exploration into a contemplation of human nature. While the show’s pacing speeds through its plot points within four episodes, each reveal feels gut wrenching, as Romi consistently has to deal with changes in Eden, Earth, and what happened to her loved ones. Modern-style animation is used, but inspired the original style of its time, creating a modernized version of the original mangaka Osamu Tezuka’s stunning images. But it’s the series’ ideas that make the show unique. Greed, betrayal, isolation, and human error causes all the disasters in this show’s universe, and even when you know it’s coming, it’s still hard not to feel the devastation the characters feel. Despite being based on a manga created decades ago, Phoenix: Eden17 still feels like an entirely singular work. Given modern animation, the ideas of the father of manga feel like it’s something never seen before.

Our staff rating: 8.5/10
Genre: Animation
Actor: Honoka Yoshida, Issey Ogata, Rie Miyazawa, Ryohei Kimura, Shintaro Asanuma, Yosuke Kubozuka
Rating: TV-MA

Free Watching Options:

Watch Phoenix: Eden17 on Hulu for free
8.

Baby Reindeer

Baby Reindeer is a tough watch, starting out with out of kilter comedy that eventually and unrelentingly reveals its darker and darker sides. But not only was this a hard show to watch, this story is genuinely difficult to tell, because of how entangled all the threads of Donny’s trauma gets– it’s not a straightforward story about going through one traumatic incident and then immediately moving to logical forms of healing. It’s about one traumatic incident keeping him stuck and leaving him and his loved ones vulnerable to even more abuse. It’s a terrifying situation. And it’s terribly, terribly honest.

Our staff rating: 8.5/10
Genre: Drama
Actor: Alexandria Riley, Amanda Root, Danny Kirrane, Hugh Coles, Jessica Gunning, Mark Lewis Jones, Michael Wildman, Nava Mau, Nina Sosanya, Richard Gadd, Shalom Brune-Franklin, Thomas Coombes, Tom Goodman-Hill
Rating: TV-MA
7.

Dark Side of the Ring

Dark Side of the Ring is where the comfort of pro wrestling and the mystery of true crime meet. The very premise of the series is that the wrestling industry is rife with with sketchy and downright depressing stories; and while it continues the tradition of depicting pro wrestling tragically (to great results), the episodes are streamlined and very consistent with having an insightful and balanced pool of perspectives. There's a lot of details for wrestling fans to sink their teeth into, but for the true crime and mystery-loving crowd, expect baseline stories about drugs, self-destruction, and outlaw wrestling practices unless it's one of those transcendent stories.

Our staff rating: 8.5/10
Genre: Documentary
Actor: Chris Jericho
Rating: TV-MA

Free Watching Options:

Watch Dark Side of the Ring on Hulu for free
6.

This Is Going to Hurt

In the dark comedy This Is Going to Hurt, Ben Whishaw stars as junior doctor Adam, who's barely keeping it together in the understaffed and under-equipped ob-gyn ward of Britain's NHS hospital. We see, often in sad and graphic detail, what goes on in a public hospital and the heavy toll this takes on both the patients’ and medical staff’s personal lives. It's hard to look away, especially when Adam addresses us in the first person. 

Even more upsetting? The miniseries is based on a memoir. Former medical trainee Adam Kay wrote a best-selling book detailing his horrific time at the NHS, and now he serves as executive producer and writer of the series.

Our staff rating: 8.8/10
Genre: Comedy, Drama
Actor: Alex Jennings, Ambika Mod, Ashley McGuire, Ben Whishaw, Kadiff Kirwan, Michele Austin, Rory Fleck Byrne
Rating: TV-14

Free Watching Options:

Watch This Is Going to Hurt on Amazon Prime for free
5.

Black Bird

Based on true events, Black Bird follows James Keene (Taron Egerton), a narcotics dealer sentenced to ten years in jail. He makes a deal with the authorities to reduce his sentence, but in return, James has to befriend their deadliest convict—a child murderer played by the excellently terrifying Paul Walter Hauser—and extract a confession out of him before it’s too late.

If you’re a fan of gripping crime thrillers, anti-heroes, star-studded shows, and watching British actors do a perfect American accent, then Black Bird is right up your alley. The miniseries is also an excellent showcase of topnotch performances; Egerton and Hauser bring the house down in their excellently staged two-handers, Greg Kinnear is reliably sturdy as the determined detective, and Ray Liotta in one of his final roles is devastating as an ailing father. 

Our staff rating: 8.8/10
Genre: Crime, Drama
Actor: Greg Kinnear, Paul Walter Hauser, Ray Liotta, Robert Wisdom, Sepideh Moafi, Taron Egerton
Rating: TV-MA
4.

The Americans

It may have never reached the heights of popularity that other prestige antihero dramas of its time did, but The Americans stayed true to itself for six incredibly consistent seasons. In the vein of "real" spy shows and films, it's much more deliberately paced, with the bulk of the drama taking place not through shootouts or technical wizardry but through the gradually fraying relationships between characters and their respective beliefs. As the Cold War stretches on for Philip and Elizabeth Jennings (played by real-life couple Matthew Rhys and Keri Russell), the former begins to feel increasingly drained by all the violence he's committed, wishing for a mundane American life; while the latter maintains a steely dedication to her mission, which also puts her loved ones in harm's way.

Throughout The Americans' run, it creates a stunningly detailed tapestry of both Soviets and Americans agents giving themselves over to causes that they still don't fully understand. But perhaps even more so than a story of loyalty to one's nation, it becomes a story about the constant demands of marriage and of making connections in a dangerous world despite the risk of betrayal. It never announces its themes loudly, but by the end the weight of these characters' isolation and disillusionment is unlike anything else you could experience on TV.

Our staff rating: 8.9/10
Genre: Crime, Drama, Thriller
Actor: Costa Ronin, Holly Taylor, Keidrich Sellati, Keri Russell, Margo Martindale, Matthew Rhys, Noah Emmerich
Rating: TV-MA

Free Watching Options:

Watch The Americans on Hulu for free
3.

Normal People

The author of the much-loved New York Times bestseller, Sally Rooney, is among the writers of this TV dramatisation, directed by Irish compatriot and indie director Lenny Abrahamson. Abrahamson, who also gave us Frank and the film adaptation of Emma Donoghue's Room, builds on Rooney's fantastic source material and an evocative soundtrack to create an intense, atmospheric drama about the vitality and violence of young love.

Initially set in rural Ireland, Normal People follows Marianne Sheridan (Daisy Edgar-Jones) and Connell Waldron (Paul Mescal) as they are figuring out themselves, their connection, and impending adulthood. And that is all I am going to say at this point, because I feel that it is best to know as little as possible going in.

Every detail of every scene feels studied, laying bare the raw emotion of the two main characters. The dialogue is sharp and funny. The acting is flawless. One thing is certain, if you like modern drama that is as much about how and what is said as about what is actually happening, you will have to watch Normal People!

Our staff rating: 9.1/10
Genre: Romance
Actor: Daisy Edgar-Jones, Paul Mescal

Free Watching Options:

Watch Normal People on Hulu for free
2.

Monster

At first glance, Monster doesn’t seem like the typical anime of the 2000s. With its muted colors, realistic action, and Eastern European setting, it seemed like a more subdued series compared to other thrillers. But because it feels so realistic, Monster is one of the most thrilling psychological series that happens to tackle the value of a human life, as the compassionate doctor Kenzo Tenma grapples with the weight of having saved a boy who grows up into a manipulative psychopath. Mangaka Naoki Urasawa and showrunner Masayuki Kojima directly challenges their respective philosophies through excellently paced investigations, well-developed characters, and the thorough examination of the different ways humanity has failed each other, and it’s downright beautiful to see how this anime adapts Urasawa’s complex, sophisticated story so faithfully.

Our staff rating: 9.2/10
Genre: Animation, Crime, Drama, Mystery
Actor: Hidenobu Kiuchi, Hideyuki Tanaka, Hisayoshi Suganuma, Ichirō Nagai, Junko Takeuchi, Kazuo Kumakura, Kyoko Hikami, Mami Koyama, Mamiko Noto, Nobuo Tanaka, Nozomu Sasaki, Ryusuke Obayashi, Shuichi Ikeda, Takayuki Sugo, Tomokazu Seki, Tsutomu Isobe
Rating: R, TV-14
1.

Beef

A parking lot run-in wouldn't normally warrant anything more than an angry rebuke, but for Danny and Amy (Steven Yeun and Ali Wong, respectively), it's the final straw that pushes them over the edge and into the domain of unfiltered rage. Years of forced optimism and unreciprocated niceness have led them to this unforgiving point, and instead of going back to how things were, they burry themselves deeper into the ground with each new act of revenge proving more sinister than the last.

Beef could've easily been a comical show anchored on silly hi-jinks. Instead, it's a searing look at anger and repression in modern-day America. Danny and Amy are on opposite ends of the class spectrum, but both are riddled with unending malaise and self-hatred, parts of which are informed by their race, gender, and status as second-generation immigrants in the country. It's their chase for the elusive American Dream, and not actually each other, that entangles them in a web of deceit and danger.

Juicy with a thrilling aftertaste, each episode of Beef will leave you enthralled, enraged, and ever-hungry for more.

Our staff rating: 9.3/10
Genre: Comedy, Drama
Actor: Ali Wong, David Choe, Joseph Lee, Patti Yasutake, Steven Yeun, Young Mazino

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