Must-See Cult TV Shows

Nick Briggs / ITV for Masterpiece

Whether you’re a fan of ebullient musical numbers or
sleek period dramas, there’s never been a better time to love television.

If there’s a lesson to learn from the rise, fall and
resurrection of Arrested Development,
the sitcom centered on the lovably dysfunctional Bluth family that aired on FOX
from 2003 to 2006, it’s that it pays to be a cult favorite. Though the show was
a critical darling and attracted an impressive list of guest stars (Charlize
Theron, Liza Minelli and Amy Poehler among them), the network canceled it after
only three seasons, due to mediocre ratings. This didn’t deter the show’s fan
base, which continued to grow in size and zeal until, after five years of
clamoring, the powers that be relented. Onstage at the New Yorker Festival last
fall, the ensemble cast—which includes Jason Bateman, Will Arnett and David
Cross—and their director, Ron Howard, announced that the show will be returning
in 2013 with ten new episodes, followed by a feature-length film. Fanatics
everywhere chicken-danced with joy.

isn’t the only show that’s managed to attract a circle
of ardent supporters; with “Gleeks” and “Downton Maniacs” commanding the
spotlight, there’s never been a better time to love television passionately and
unapologetically. Smash,
NBC’s new drama chronicling the creation of a Broadway musical about Marilyn
Monroe, is primed to capitalize on this enthusiasm: Its pilot drew 11.4 million
viewers and a whirlwind of positive buzz. Fans are already arguing over which
of the show’s two starlets would make a better Marilyn.

But with dozens of shows competing for attention and
limited hours in a day, which are worth watching? We’ve trolled the airwaves
for a list of television shows that, through charismatic characters, compelling
plotlines and high production values, live up to the fan fervor. All tastes are
accounted for, from Portlandia,
IFC’s sketch-comedy show that riffs on the cultural quirks of the Pacific
Northwest, to Homeland,
the Golden Globe-winning terrorist psychodrama from Showtime, starring Claire
Danes as an unbalanced CIA agent, to Downton
, the BBC period drama that has secured veteran actress Maggie
Smith a whole new set of acolytes. The only question is: Do you have a DVR?